Addressing health inequalities, or the ‘social gradient’ in health whereby those living in the most deprived neighbourhoods die earlier and spend more time in ill health than those living in the least deprived neighbourhoods, requires action from planners, health and environmental professionals.
Kent has already produced an action plan to address health inequalities between 2012 and 2015. Kent’s Health Inequalities Action Plan is centred on the needs and priorities identified in Kent’s Joint Strategic Needs Assessment which in turn informs the Strategies, Business Plans and Local Delivery Frameworks across the Local Authority. The Health Inequalities Action Plan has been composed under the six Marmot Policy Objectives. Under each objective a set of priorities have been identified from the JSNA and partners have agreed actions that support them.
“Local planning authorities should use [the business evidence base] to assess locations of deprivation which may benefit from planned remedial action.”
The benefits of addressing health inequalities are wide ranging and would help to address the following points:
- Physical wellbeing: The Marmot Review, 2010 reports that poorer communities suffer a higher prevalence of cardio-respiratory disease and the lowest social grade visit green spaces infrequently, which is likely to be due to both the low availability and bad quality of green space in deprived areas.
- Mental wellbeing: people in the lowest 20 per cent of household income are almost three times more at risk of having mental illness compared with other households; and being unemployed puts a person at a similarly increased risk of developing a common mental disorder (MNWIA, 2011).
- Climate Change Risk Exposure: Low-income groups will be more exposed to extreme weather risks, flooding and homelessness, even though they are responsible for fewer carbon emissions, and will lack insurance and other material resources to cope (Sustainable Development Commission, 2010).
- Legislation: The Health and Social Care Act 2012 contains the first ever specific legal duties on health inequalities.
- Shift of public health responsibilities: local authorities should take on the major responsibility of improving the health and life chances of the local populations they serve (Local Government Association, 2011).
“Life expectancy is better than the national average but there is a considerable gap in life expectancy between the most and least deprived areas. Although the population of Kent as a whole is less deprived than the national average, there are considerable pockets of deprivation in areas of Dartford, Dover, Gravesham, Shepway, Swale and Thanet, and these are on a par with the most deprived communities nationwide.”
The Kent Health Profile 2013