Austerity ‘undermining’ Scots’ health

Scotland’s public health body says UK Government welfare cuts are contributing to ill-health

Friday 24th May 2019

Scotland’s public health body says the UK Government’s policy of austerity is ‘undermining’ efforts to improve health among the poorest Scots and stopping them from living healthy lives.

NHS Health Scotland’s chief executive, Gerry McLaughlin, also claims poverty is a ‘political choice’.

The comments come in response to a UN report on poverty in the UK that said ‘much of the glue that has held British society together since the Second World War has been deliberately removed and replaced with a harsh and uncaring ethos.’

Report author Philip Alston claimed spending cuts pursued since 2010 had had ‘tragic social consequences’, including more children growing up in poverty and life expectancy dropping for some group, and went on to accuse the UK Government of ‘systematically’ dismantling the benefits system.

The claims have been roundly rejected by Work & Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd, who is reportedly considering lodging an official complaint to the UN.

The report’s focus on the social security system, in-work poverty and child poverty was welcomed by Mr McLaughlin.

He said: “Poverty is a public health problem, a human rights issue and a political choice. Professor Alston’s report sets this out clearly. In drawing on both first-hand accounts and evidence submitted from a range of organisations and individuals, Professor Alston has laid bare the extent of poverty and how it could be linked to the recent stalling of life expectancy.

“We all have a human right to good health. It’s not fair that life expectancy, or healthy life expectancy, is determined by having (or not having) the things that can help us live better and longer. We know that it doesn’t have to be that way. Through research we have done, we know that by shifting the focus to prevention, and creating policy that drives a fairer sharing of income, we can make a difference to the health of more people at the same time.”

Mr McLaughlin goes on to say wages and benefits should be increased so people have the money they need to live ‘longer, healthier lives’.

“And the way in which services are designed and delivered matters too – making it easier for people to access benefit entitlements and relevant, appropriate employment support is crucial,” he added.

The Scottish public health experts have previously argued redistributing wealth by topping up the value of all benefits is the best way to boost poor and unequal health in Scotland.

Health Scotland’s chief executive says the organisation will continue to “work with others to address the distribution of income, power and wealth and support the realisation of Scotland’s public health priorities to create a fairer, healthier Scotland.”