The New Politics for Health Project (#NewPolitics4Health)

The Politics of Health Group (PoHG) has set up the New Politics for Health project to champion the elimination of health inequalities and highlight how the health of every citizen might be improved. Although difficult to define and often considered to be something in the gift of the health service, we consider that following is a good way of viewing health:

“The extent to which an individual or group is able to realize aspirations and satisfy needs, and to change or cope with the environment.   Health is a resource for everyday life, not the objective of living; it is a positive concept, emphasizing social and personal resources, as well as physical capacities.”   (Health promotion: a discussion document. Copenhagen, WHO, 1984.)

Using this definition as a basis, it is now very clear that in the UK the opposite is often too true. Many people are struggling to meet their aspirations because of the lack of opportunities, are failing to have their needs met because of insecure work and low income or the high costs of nutritious food and housing and are finding it difficult to cope with the environment because it is fast paced, highly competitive and often discriminatory. These difficulties are playing out on people’s bodies and minds in ways which we recognise as forms of ill health. Two sensitive indicators of the way in which good health has been undermined are the obesity epidemic and the exponential rise of stress, anxiety and depression.

We attribute this directly to the political and economic decisions that have been taken over the past 40 years. Neoliberalism has five main characteristics all of which are detrimental to health and we consider these worth elaborating:

  • THE RULE OF THE MARKET.Liberating “free” enterprise or private enterprise from any bonds imposed by the government (the state) no matter how much social damage this causes. Greater openness to international trade and investment. Reduce wages by de-unionizing workers and eliminating workers’ rights that had been won over many years of struggle. No more price controls. All in all, total freedom of movement for capital, goods and services. Where an unregulated market is considered the best way to increase economic growth
  • CUTTING PUBLIC EXPENDITURE FOR SOCIAL SERVICESlike education and health care. Reducing or eliminating the welfare state, and even maintenance of roads, bridges, water supply — again in the name of reducing government’s role. Of course, neoliberals don’t oppose government subsidies and tax benefits for business.
  • Reduce government regulation of everything that could diminish profits, including protecting the environment and safety on the job.
  • Sell state-owned enterprises, goods and services to private investors. This includes banks, key industries, railroads, toll highways, electricity, schools, hospitals and even fresh water. Although usually done in the name of greater efficiency, which is often needed, privatisation has mainly had the effect of concentrating wealth even more in a few hands and making the public pay even more for its needs.
  • ELIMINATING THE CONCEPT OF “THE PUBLIC GOOD” or “COMMUNITY”and replacing it with “individual responsibility.” Pressuring the poorest people in a society to find solutions to their lack of health care, education and social security all by themselves — then blaming them, if they fail, as “lazy.”

(Amended from Corpwatch

Tackling the domination of neoliberalism, its direct affect on health and the way it has created massive inequality which itself leads to poor health, is a challenge of major proportions and not one that a small network of people can or should take on itself. We are further concerned about the emphasis placed by Government on individualised solutions to poor health and the fantasy that this approach will solve the problem – see PoHG Blog No 1

PoHG does however consider that the issue of health is a focus around which people can be rallied because of its personal importance. The New Politics for Health Project is our attempt to reach out to organisations and individuals to work more closely together to inform people about the way our political and economic system affects health and to champion an alternative agenda for health. A full account of the activity to date can be found here: Please get involved. Without your support, the project will not make progress.




Welfare with conditions can promote social divisions

This blog was first published on the Cost of Living web site and is reproduced with permission.

The UK benefits system is going through its biggest reform in 60 years. The revised system relies more heavily on welfare with conditions – that is to say, benefits allocated on the basis of assessments of individual financial or physical need. Whilst calls for introducing these sorts of conditions have been based on claims of fairness and equality, our research suggests that introducing more conditions has the potential to promote greater inequality and foster divisions both within the older population and between generations.

People aged 60 years and over in England are currently eligible to receive a range of State transfers of resources (‘benefits’). Some entitlements are based on age (such as the free bus pass for over 60s); others on financial contributions from earnings (such as the state pension); and others on evidence of financial need (such as housing benefit). Given the increasing numbers of people aged 60 years and over questions have been raised (in parliament and the media) about the ability of the State to provide benefits to an ageing population: the number of older adults living in Europe is expected to grow rapidly over the next 15 years, creating a number of new public health challenges. A generation once described as ‘deserving’ is now seen as an economic threat. Issues of ‘welfare deservingness’ were central to debates in the 2016 EU Referendum, raising questions about the ways in which people view welfare benefits and the consequences this might have for social cohesion.

For example, the ways in which benefits are delivered – and their conditional or universal basis – affects how people relate to one another. Older people that we interviewed in Sheffield, London and Cambridge talked about their experiences of managing financially as typical of their generation. ‘Our generation’ was characterised by our interviewees as having struggled to achieve independence and self-reliance. When we asked these people about welfare benefits, the receipt of universal age-related benefits (for themselves and other older people) was compatible with their view of ‘our generation’. Universal entitlement was experienced as social recognition: pensions, free travel and fuel subsidies are seen by older people as respect for hard work and resilience over a lifetime as a UK citizen. These welfare transfers were not seen as ‘benefits’ but, rather “something that we were entitled to automatically at 60”. The receipt of universal benefits facilitated a pride in getting older that might otherwise be threatened by other aspects of ageing. People talked about the ways in which the loss of working identities and increasing social and physical dependence on others threatened their sense of self; universal benefits helped some people to overcome this. Continue reading “Welfare with conditions can promote social divisions”