Tackling Scotland’s health inequalities requires immediate joined-up action by all levels of government, Holyrood Committee finds
28 September 2022
A wide-ranging report by the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee calls for urgent action to address health inequalities, and for tackling poverty to be considered a major public health priority at all levels of Government in order to address this.
The Committee heard evidence that the Covid-19 pandemic and the rapidly rising cost of living have further exacerbated Scotland’s health inequalities.
The Committee is calling for action across the UK and the Scottish governments, and by local authorities, which it says is essential if these inequalities are to be tackled effectively. This includes further public service reform and strategic action across multiple policy areas.
Among its recommendations, the Committee is calling for action on education, employment and housing to improve health outcomes and better tackle health inequalities. It says safe, secure and affordable housing must be available for all and highlights the significant impact planning policy can have on health outcomes and, if implemented poorly, in widening inequalities.
In compiling its report, the majority of the Committee agreed with the recommendation by the Glasgow Centre of Population Health that, within budget constraints, the UK Government should take action to align benefits and tax credits with inflation and to reinstate the uplift in Universal Credit introduced during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The report also highlights extensive evidence submitted to the inquiry that informal and unpaid caring has a disproportionate impact on health outcomes and that informal carers face significant health inequalities as a result. To address this issue, the Committee calls on the Scottish Government and Public Health Scotland to provide more targeted support for carers.
Gillian Martin MSP, Convener of the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee, said:
“The evidence is clear that health inequalities in Scotland continue to grow, while the pandemic and ongoing cost of living crisis will only exacerbate these inequalities further.
“A number of witnesses contributing to the inquiry argued that, over the past decade, UK Government policies on austerity have also had a negative impact on health inequalities in Scotland.
“We are particularly concerned that the rising cost of living will have a greater negative impact on those groups already experiencing health inequalities, including those living in poverty and those with a disability.
“Government action to date to tackle health inequalities has not been enough in the face of decades-long, major impacts on household incomes. We are calling for urgent action across all levels of government to reduce these stark inequalities which have real life and death consequences.
“There is currently no overarching national strategy for tackling health inequalities in Scotland. Meanwhile, evidence submitted to our inquiry has revealed multiple instances where the design and delivery of public services may be exacerbating inequalities rather than reducing them. We need to deliver further public service reform to ensure this doesn’t continue to happen.
“The reasons why we have failed to make progress in tackling health inequalities are many and varied. Reducing these will require bold and strategic action across all levels of government and by a range of government departments. Tackling health inequalities must be a major public health priority because lives literally depend on it.”
Other key findings in the report include:
- The Committee express concern that certain vulnerable families report being excluded from free childcare provision, including those who care for disabled children and those who do not have a standard Monday-Friday work pattern.
- A majority of the Committee is supportive of the concept of a universal basic income and calls on the Scottish Government to work with the relevant UK agencies to consider whether a pilot of the policy could take place in Scotland in order to begin to address health inequalities. A Committee majority would also like to see the implementation of a minimum income guarantee in Scotland.
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