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Health Inequalities Debate 04/03/20

Opposition Day Debate – Health Inequalities 04/03/20

Last week I spoke in the Opposition Day debate on Health Inequalities, which was stimulated by recent statistics showing the increase in life expectancy in England has stalled for the first time in 120 years and dropped by almost a year for women in the poorest areas of the north-east of England. Indeed, the gap in life expectancy between the most and least deprived women has widened by nearly 10 years!

We know that someone’s health is determined in their early years, even as early as in their mother’s womb, which is why child poverty is central to long term health outcomes. Four million children in the UK are now growing up in poverty and it will affect every aspect of their lives. It is hard to do well at school if you are cold and hungry, or if your family is constantly under the stress of poverty. This is undoubtedly the result of the UK Government’s austerity policies over the past 10 years and we know this because child poverty had been going down prior to 2010 when the Tories took over in Number 10.

Whilst health is devolved, poverty is decided at Westminster and the Scottish Government are left to pick up the pieces: spending over £100m each year providing crisis funding and mitigating the Bedroom Tax. The UK Government’s answer to these shocking statistics is that people should work their way out of poverty yet two thirds of children in poverty have at least one working parent and much of the available work is low paid and insecure, making survival week to week extremely challenging. In the meantime, whilst more families have fallen below the poverty line, the wealthiest have trebled their wealth.

The impact of poverty on a child’s health is far-reaching. 3-year olds in a household with an income of less than £10,000 have two and a half times the risk of chronic disease and, by the time they start school, the poorest children have over a year’s gap in their vocabulary. It is critical to give all children a decent start in life, which is why the Scottish Government are investing in doubling the hours available for early learning and offering Best Start grants, with the first instalment during pregnancy.

Poverty is the biggest driver of ill-health and Tory austerity is the biggest driver of poverty – Scotland can do better than this!

An exert from Hansard and a hyperlink to footage containing the whole speech can both be accessed below:

Hansard: https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2020-03-04/debates/F45AA8C2-154A-497D-88E4-80304A4714ED/HealthInequalities

Full Speech: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SK0pNhXa1j8