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A New Politics for Health

Thirty years ago, the Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion generated worldwide interest in a new public health, based on the promotion of healthy public policies, environments conducive to health, inclusive public services and community and individual action. Thirty years later we have a clearer understanding of the relationships between politics, public policy and health but are still battling against the odds to realise its aims.

Over the summer of 2016 we have held a number of events around the country, where people and organisations from across the social spectrum have gathered to discuss how we can achieve health justice in the UK. The findings from these meetings fed into a national event on 23rd November 2016 when over 100 people came together at Birmingham City University to work on a new charter for health – specifically, a charter that challenges health inequalities head on. Kate Pickett (co-author with Richard Wilkinson of The Spirit Level) made a powerful case for change, demonstrating how the economic model that has held sway for over 30 years has not only failed to shift the gross inequalities in health that are a stain on British society, but has exacerbated them. There were loads of ideas for policy and action and now PoHG, working with participants and our partners, will sift through these to come up with a new charter for health equity – that we hope will be both inspirational and practical. Thanks to BCU and The Equality Trust for their support, and to all who took part. We hope all PoHG supporters will join us in making the new charter a powerful tool for change and building an irresistible movement for health justice.

We are currently working on, and will upload to this web site, all the papers contributing to this initiative.

Thirty years is too long to wait. Please, join us.

Background to a New Politics for Health

In 1986, as part of its drive towards Health for All by the Year 2000, the World Health Organisation sponsored an international conference on health promotion in Ottawa, Canada. Representatives from forty countries pledged themselves to a bold strategy to achieve health for all by moving into the arena of public policy and political commitment to health promotion (the Ottawa Charter). Thirty years later, progress has been slow. PoHG and its partners want to learn the reasons for this, and define actions that can be taken to improve progress. We will do this by bringing together interested parties in an innovative, participatory and action-oriented conference.

Why is this work needed?

  • In the UK growing prosperity has not been matched by a reduction in inequalities in health, as has been documented by The Marmot Review of the Global Commission on Social Determinants of Health.
  • After 30 years we need a new approach to health promotion– one that has the principles of the original Charter at its heart but helps us to generate a stronger commitment to action.
  • There is a lack of public debate about health equity happening outside of academic and policy circles.
  • With public health responsibilities now integrated into local authorities - who are focused on delivery and have limited capacity and resources to influence the social determinants of health - little creative work is being done to articulate the sort of future for the UK’s health that we would like to see.
  • There is a lack of political will to tackle the underlying determinants of health inequalities.


    Our ambition is to start a process of social change that will benefit the whole of society by reducing inequalities in health. In doing so, there should be a marked benefit for the poorer members of our society.


  • Celebrate the UK public health movement that emerged from the Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion.
  • Set a new direction to strengthen action on the political determinants of health.


  • Develop a new UK version of the Ottawa Charter;
  • Identify areas for strategic intervention, priorities and actions to address the political determinants of health;
  • Identify areas for research that can help to support the development of future action;
  • Create momentum for people to work together for the public health.


Before the conference, participants will be encouraged to participate in a number of lead-in regional seminars on the five themes of the Ottawa Charter:
  • Build healthy public policy
  • Create supportive environments
  • Strengthen community action
  • Develop personal skills
  • Reorient health services.
We anticipate the seminars will result in position papers, case studies and good practice examples that will stimulate thought and discussion To maximize dialogue and interaction at the conference we will use a workshop format to bring together public health practitioners, academics and lay people to contribute stories and ideas. Expert speakers will set the scene at the start of the event, and review progress at its conclusion. Experienced facilitators and scribes will support the workshop sessions.

Anticipated Outputs

  • The Birmingham Health Charter:a new politics for health - a revised charter for equitable health promotion with clear areas for action
  • A conference report
  • Position papers, case studies and good practice guides
  • Research publications in academic, public health and political journals
  • Policy papers

Anticipated Outcomes

  • A reinvigorated public health movement
  • Policy development based on evidence and commitment to reducing inequalities in health
  • A renewed research agenda to support the development of action on the political and social determinants of health.

Why this conference will be different

  • To maximise impact, participants will be involved in activity prior to and after the conference.
  • It will involve people working in public health at the time of the original Ottawa Charter, for example Professors Margaret Whitehead and Alex Scott-Samuel, so that the learning can be passed on.
  • The process for the conference will be creative, dynamic and inspiring. It will generate stories from people from all walks of life about health inequalities and the future we want to see.

Our partnership

Birmingham City University (BCU) has a long history of providing practitioner education in Health Promotion and Public Health. The Public Health team within BCU has a strong reputation for its focus on the complex, dynamic nature of health, and the way that it is determined and influenced by social, economic and political factors. This approach underpins our courses (undergraduate and postgraduate), research and consultancy activities. BCU welcomes the opportunity to work in partnership with PoHG and The Equality Trust in driving forward this agenda.

The Equality Trust is a charitable organisation that works to improve the quality of life in the UK by campaigning to reduce economic inequality. UK income inequality is among the highest in the developed world and evidence shows that this has negative health and social consequences for all sectors of society from the richest to the poorest.

Thirty years is too long to wait. Please, join us.

Join Us

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PoHG welcomes individual and organisational members from any background related to the politics of health.

If you want to join PoHG contact us at:

The picture at the top of this page is © J Hewitson ( and is reproduced by kind permission of the National Labor Federation, 220 West 19 St, Suite A, NY, NY 10011, USA

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Speaking Out on the Health Impact of Politics