Monday, 5 October 2009

Inequality: The Elephant in the Room

After a few weeks behind my usual desk and a couple of hectic, lunchbreak free duty days the memory of the relaxed week I spent with the new team is heading on a one-way ticket to my subconscious. There is however, one aspect of the week which troubles me and has been the cause for some reflection.

In my second day on-loan to the newly formed, freshly relocated team I stepped out of the office to take a lunchtime meander. The office, a grim, dull building, is located on the West side of the City at the end of a long shopping street; the sort of street that is near to a town centre, but a world apart. 99p shops, Greggs the Bakers, an empty Woolies leaving a gap like a freshly pulled tooth, pawn brokers, cash converters, assorted charity shops, a KFC and a shop selling mobility scooters. What struck me most of all however, was how there seemed to be a far higher number of people who appeared to be in poor health with oxygen bottles, missing limbs and mobility scooters.

I was troubled as to whether this was the anecdotal observation of a Flaneur born of some kind of class-snobbery so last week, over another lunchbreak I went in search of hard data. A quick Google search instantly came up with what I was looking for. On an NHS site I found the following passage:

"Predictably, poorer health indicators are common in the most deprived wards and are a dominant feature of west ............ Compared to the rest of the City, people living in poorer areas have a 27% higher overall death rate and a 47% higher death rate for heart disease and stroke. Specific health problems include high teenage pregnancy rates, high accident rates and poor dental health in children."

Not coincidentally this side of town is home to the highest proportion of Social Care service users. Poverty and inequality have long been known to been implicated in conditions such as COPD, mental health issues, obesity and diabetes.

From an insiders view of service cutbacks, understaffing and a new charging policy which has sparked protests outside City Hall it is clear there is a funding crisis in the Social Care field. This is publicly acknowledged by the Government. The latest Government initiative 'The Big Care Debate' frames the issue in terms of the crisis being a by-product of us living longer. The elephant in the room however, seems to be the effect on health and the need for long-term services generated by poverty and inequality. The complex needs arising from and exasperated by poor housing, mental health issues, lack of resources and poor education. Inequalities many of which have grown unchecked for a generation and need to be tackled.

1 comment:

  1. Unfortunately (and I try not to be too pessimistic!) there is little political will in an era of cuts - possibly because these inequalities lead to a detachment from the political process. Maybe I'm too cynical but I think that as long as elected politicians emerge from the 'right' side of town, there will be little political capital to be gained by tackling inequality in society - there aren't the votes in it. However, if money is to be saved in the longer run, it is by providing more low level services across the board, rather than concentrating on those with highest need.