Healing The Nation? Theresa May And Health Inequalities

In my new book, Health Divides: where you live can kill you, I show how the welfare cuts enacted by successive neoliberal governments have contributed to these increased health inequalities. The Thatcher “reforms” of the 1980s, many of which were continued under subsequent governments, reduced the social safety net which protected the health of the poorest in the post-war period, reduced the influence of trade unions in terms of negotiating better wages and working conditions and the commitment to full employment was abandoned resulting in millions of people and whole communities feeling left behind. These negative social and health trends are similar in other neoliberal countries, such as the US or New Zealand. There is also emerging evidence that austerity (itself the consequence of neoliberal policy choices, in particular the deregulation of financial markets and institutions by the Reagan and Thatcher governments in the 1980s) is beginning to have unequal impacts on the health of the nation with welfare and local authority budget cuts particularly hitting the Northern and deindustrial areas.

But, there are alternatives: health inequalities were reduced during the period of welfare state expansion and full employment in the UK from the 1950s to the 1970s and in the US during the ‘war on poverty’ instigated by President Lyndon Johnson (LBJ) in the 1960s. In my book, I outline the evidence for how an alternative politics leading to a more inclusive welfare state, publicly provided services and stronger work and employment rights can lead to public health improvements for everyone – whether they are rich or poor, Northern or Southern, Scottish or English.

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