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Socially Determined: new data on attitudes to health inequalities
Polling suggests that personal experience is increasing public awareness and understanding of the social determinants of health
We’ve published a report today about public attitudes to health inequalities.
Polling by the Fairness Foundation and Opinium finds that people do recognise the importance of tackling the underlying ‘social determinants’ of poor health such as poverty, poor housing and pollution, rather than focusing on individual choices and healthcare services, and suggests that an increased awareness of structural influences on health might be due to their personal experiences of health issues.
The survey aimed to find out whether people recognise the impact of social factors on health outcomes when they are presented with specific case studies, and how they compare the impact of those factors to individual choices and healthcare services. It also looked at how attitudes vary based on people’s background, beliefs and personal health, and views on the role of the state in addressing health inequalities.
We found that 50% of people believe that their or their families’ health has been negatively affected by their economic situation, while a similar proportion cite the negative health impacts of their job. This may help to explain why respondents tended to place more emphasis on social determinants than on individual responsibility when asked to identify the causes of five case studies of ill health.
Main findings and recommendations for policymakers
Work and poverty are negatively affecting people’s health: 50% say that their jobs negatively impact their and their family’s health, alongside 50% citing their economic situation and 62% blaming inadequate healthcare services. Politicians should be asking businesses to do more to help to address the impact of work on health.
People recognise the socio-economic causes of poor health: Presented with case studies, people recognise the impact of economic and environmental factors on poor health rather than simply blaming the state of the NHS or individual lifestyles. We urgently need an ambitious cross-government programme to tackle health inequalities.
People want the government to tackle those causes: Asked who should fix health inequalities, the most popular answer is individuals, but looking across the top two answers, more people say that government needs to tackle societal issues. Politicians should not be held back by an unfounded belief that the public oppose state intervention.
Most people are happy to pay to tackle health inequalities: 52% of Britons support raising taxes to increase spending on health inequalities, including 44% of 2019 Tory voters; only 7% think spending on health inequalities should decrease. Politicians should consider pledges to spend more on health inequalities, funded by raising taxes if needed.
The NHS cannot address health inequalities by itself: 23% think reducing health inequalities should be a priority for the NHS - higher than previous surveys, but still a lower priority for most than improving NHS waiting lists and GP appointments. Addressing the social determinants will help to take pressure off the NHS in the long term by reducing ill health.