Health inequalities rising despite government targets

15 Jun 09
MPs have criticised the government for failing to meet its targets for reducing the health gap between the rich and the poor.

By David Williams

MPs have criticised the government for failing to meet its targets for reducing the health gap between the rich and the poor.

MPs have criticised the government for failing to meet its targets for reducing the health gap between the rich and the poor.

A report released by the Commons’ health select committee on March 15 said health inequalities in England were now 4% wider among men and 11% wider among women than they were a decade ago.

This is despite the government setting itself some of the strictest targets in the world in areas such as infant mortality and life expectancy.

The committee criticised the government for introducing policies that were not based on evidence and impossible to evaluate.

‘Governments have spent large sums of money on social experiments to reduce health inequalities, but we do not know whether these experiments have worked… the latest initiative on Healthy Towns has all the failings of previous policies,’ the MPs said.

Their report also argued that ‘wanton large-scale experimentation’ was unethical. It urged the government to adopt properly monitored pilot schemes for new policies.

The MPs said they were ‘appalled’ that the plan for ‘traffic-light labelling’ of food according to its nutritional value had not been brought in.

They also described the health differences between mental health service users and the rest of the population as ‘scandalous’.

The report found that while the overall health of the country was improving, it was improving more slowly in the most deprived groups.

But the government was praised for the ambition of its targets, and for progressive policies such as its Sure Start children’s services programme.

However, the MPs criticised recent alterations to Sure Start. The scheme was originally focused on deprived neighbourhoods but had become more universal, they said, without the government understanding the impact this might have on health inequality.

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