Secretary of State for Health, John Reid, reaffirmed the British Government’s commitment to tackling health inequalities and congratulated all those who have been leading local action, at a national conference in London today.
The conference, organised by the Department of Health, brought together an audience from the public health and local government fields to put health inequalities at the heart of the public health White Paper consultation.
Speaking at the conference, John Reid said:
"Our responsibility is to create the conditions where disadvantaged people feel able to make healthier choices. But nothing happens unless people make those choices."
"Our task is to help everyone make that choice and to recognise that within the existing policy framework millions of people continue to experience significantly poorer health than the general population. The figures of life expectancy show this at a glimpse. It remains the case that a boy born in Manchester is likely to die on average 8.5 years earlier than a boy born in Rutland."
"We have always recognised the importance of engaging with the widest range of organisations in the drive to reduce health inequalities. Health inequalities are a complex problem, and engagement across government, the whole of the NHS, local authorities, voluntary and community bodies is crucial. As Secretary of State for Health I have overall responsibility for leading the work on health inequalities, but I also count on the support of my colleagues across Government to contribute to this agenda."
"I am committed to improving people's health across the whole of society. Tackling health inequalities is an integral part of this aim. The health of the population will improve, but we need the health of the poorest to improve at a faster rate. As well as thinking about the particular health issues like smoking, obesity, and mental health, it means thinking about the delivery of services and the systems that create barriers to health and health choices. The innovative work on show will provide an inspiration to others and will help us find the best possible solutions to make it easier for individuals and communities to 'choose health'"
The conference also showcased examples from 25 successful programmes addressing health inequalities including the New Deal Community Kitchen in Newcastle which runs healthy cook and eat sessions - to get across the important messages around healthy eating in an informal way; and the South Asian Communities Initiative in Manchester which works with the local minority ethnic community to target regnant smokers.
Also speaking at the conference, Sir Jeremy Beecham, Chairman of the Local Government Association said:
"A sustained attack on health inequality and the poverty underlying it demands continued investment across all relevant public services by the full range of public bodies. "
"The voluntary sector also has a critical role in defining needs and delivering solutions. The private sector has a key responsibility and opportunity to contribute to successful results."
"Local councils need to use their community leadership and power to promote the social, economic and environmental well-being of their area to drive the public health agenda forward."