Welcome to the Public Works blog.

Public Works is UNISON Scotland's campaign for jobs, services, fair taxation and the Living Wage. This blog will provide news and analysis on the delivery of public services in Scotland. We welcome comments and if you would like to contribute to this blog, please contact Dave Watson d.watson@unison.co.uk. For other information on what's happening in UNISON Scotland please visit our website.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Health Inequalities - We need an end to austerity



Austerity and what is wrong with it has been leading the news thanks to the Syriza victory in the Greek elections.

This blog regularly highlights our opposition to austerity and the damage being done to families and particularly young people and the most vulnerable members of our society.

One of the cruel scandals of the wide and unfair health impacts is that too often people in poverty struggling with ill-health are attacked for unhealthy lifestyles by the wealthy and the powerful suggesting these problems are simply self-inflicted.

But in New Scientist magazine Scotland’s former chief medical officer Dr Harry Burns has reiterated that job loss and social breakdown, NOT smoking and bad diet, is at the root of the country’s infamously high rate of premature death.

He points out that from 1950-1970 Scotland had one of the lowest rates of death from alcoholic liver disease, but by 2005 it had the highest.

Dr Burns said: “It may be that what we are seeing in Scotland is the consequence of austerity in the 1970s and 80s, when social change and joblessness led to a breakdown in family life and a cycle of alienation...What we have seen in Glasgow may become evident in southern Europe over the next two decades.”


He is hopeful that health inequalities can be fixed over time, but stresses that this needs politicians who are guided by science. His article provides evidence of how “widening health inequality in Glasgow is due to the recent emergence of socially determined causes of early death.”

Dr Burns, who is professor of global public health at Strathclyde University, says Scotland is fortunate in having politicians who do back a radical approach to policies such as investment in early childhood.

Research such as the California Adverse Childhood Event study showed how a range of difficult experiences in childhood are related to problems in adulthood such as alcoholism, drug abuse and domestic violence.

UNISON agrees that there is leading cross-party backing for the principles of support in the early years etc. However, we are less optimistic of seriously tackling health inequalities without an end to austerity and that is where politicians are failing the people.

Our report Health Inequalities in Scotland points out that the solutions start with “a recognition that health inequalities are caused by socioeconomic inequality.” 

We argue in Austerity Economics Don’t Add Up, that politicians of all parties - in Government and in opposition, in Edinburgh and in London and in other towns and cities - must put fairness and tackling inequality at the heart of economic policy.

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