Scottish Government Minister Joe Fitzpatrick MSP addressed our evening reception in the Scottish Parliament Garden Lobby on 11th December, held to celebrate the work of the Cross Party Group on Health Inequalities. Mr Fitzpatrick happily agreed to VHS publishing the presentation he gave, so please read on to see what he had to say:
I’m delighted to be here this evening to celebrate the very important work of this Cross Party Group on health inequalities.
Firstly, I want to express my heartfelt thanks to all the members of this group. I’ve read with interest the report summarising your work over the last year and the range of issues you have covered such as the link between obesity and cancer and how fuel poverty can lead to health inequalities. The work of this group is shining a light on the underlying social and economic determinants of poor health and your efforts to keep the spotlight not just on the evidence about the causes and nature of health inequalities but on practical ideas for solutions to solving them are greatly appreciated.
What the Scottish Government is doing to tackle health inequalities
I’m still relatively new to my role as Minister for Public Health, however it is already evident to me that inequalities in health and wellbeing are one of the biggest challenges we face. As you all know, they are a symptom of wider social inequalities and I am committed to doing all that I can to reduce them. I am under no illusion about the enormity of this task. However, by working together like this Cross Party Group does I am confident that we can make improvements to the health and wellbeing of the nation.
Reducing health inequalities sits at the very heart of the Scottish Government’s priorities and we are taking action to address their underlying and unfair causes. The Scottish Government is investing in affordable housing and measures such as free school meals and Best Start grants. We are also continuing commitments like free prescriptions, concessionary travel and free personal care. These are all the right approaches to take. However, there is more that we could and should be doing to make Scotland as healthy as possible.
To that end, in the last six months we have published five strategies, all of which have an aim of reducing health inequalities:
- Our new Tobacco Action Plan, focuses on addressing health inequalities and targeting smoking rates in the communities where people find it most difficult to quit;
- Our Diet and Healthy Weight Delivery Plan sets out our vision for everyone in Scotland to eat well and have a healthy weight;
- Our Active Scotland Delivery Plan aims to cut physical inactivity in adults and teenagers by 15% by 2030;
- Our Alcohol and Drug strategy, looks at ways to improve health by preventing and reducing alcohol and drug use, harm and related deaths; and
- Our new Alcohol Framework sets out 20 actions to continue changing our troubled relationship with alcohol and prevent alcohol-related harms.
However, despite this commitment to reducing health inequalities, we know that most of the determinants of poor health and wellbeing happen outside of the health system. Therefore I am committed to making public health, and the health of the nation, relevant and essential for all parts of the public sector. I want my Ministerial colleagues, the different departments of Government, the wider public sector and the third sector to realise that we all have a significant role to play; that we all can contribute to creating the conditions for wellbeing in Scotland; and that we all will benefit from a healthier Scotland.
The very existence of this Cross Party Group, and the varied and important expertise its members bring to the table, is a prime example of how working together, across sectors, can open the discussion on health inequalities.
Public Health Priorities
To help us work towards reducing health inequalities, we are taking forward a programme of work in partnership with COSLA to reform public health. As part of that joint effort, we published a set of Public Health Priorities in June this year.
The Priorities provide an important ‘lens’ for the whole system. They provide a focus on the things which will have the greatest potential to improve the health of the nation over the next decade:-
- on places and communities;
- on early years;
- on mental wellbeing;
- on alcohol, tobacco and drugs;
- on poverty; and
- on healthy weight and physical activity.
We developed the Priorities through a collaborative approach – they reflect the views and contributions of a wide range of partners, and they reflect what the evidence tells us about where we need to focus our efforts. I truly believe that they are an important first step in our journey to improve Scotland’s health.
Over 80 different organisations and professional groups have endorsed the Priorities. This includes endorsement from organisations that we would not normally associate with the work of public health, or who might not normally see themselves as having a role to play. This is reassuring as it suggests that our message about the broader efforts of society is being heard, and that there is a willingness to contribute to this agenda over the long-term from across the system.
The Priorities are a call to action for the wider system and for communities in Scotland. They provide a framework for National and Local Government to inform strategies and action in the coming years.
Public Health Scotland
Work is in hand to establish the new, national, public health body, Public Health Scotland, late next year.
I am clear that Public Health Scotland must represent a real difference in our approach to public health. As you will know, there is an unacceptable variation in life expectancy across our communities. I am shocked that this variation exists. Variation that is simply not acceptable in modern Scotland, and variation that we have the tools to do something about.
These unacceptable life expectancy figures set out clearly the challenge we have yet to fully meet. Public Health Scotland will be an important part of the new landscape.
It must have influence across Scotland and with a wide range of stakeholders, including third sector organisations. I look forward to seeing the third sector engaging with Public Health Scotland, involving themselves in conversations about how we shape and work with our communities to tackle some of the most complex problems that we face.
The establishment of Public Health Scotland will be one of the most significant developments in public health in Scotland for a generation and I am incredibly hopeful about the significant contribution it will make to improving the health and wellbeing of the people of Scotland.
And our work across the wider system will support partners to develop more integrated ways of working together with communities, shifting ways of working from “doing to” to “working with” communities to enable them to identify solutions to local challenges and increase their participation in the decisions that affect them.
UK Government Austerity
Unfortunately, despite all the good work we are doing in Scotland, we continue to see the negative impacts on wellbeing of continued austerity as a result of UK Government economic and welfare policies. The recent report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation on UK Poverty serves as further evidence of this. The report found that child poverty has been rising since 2011/12. 4.1 million children now live in poverty, a rise of 500,000 in the last five years. It is likely that we will be faced with the consequences of this for many years to come.
It is therefore vital that we continue to introduce the right measures in Scotland in order to eradicate child poverty and to reduce health and social inequalities.
Health inequalities are the unjust and avoidable differences in people’s health across the population and between specific population groups. They do not just blight the lives of those affected, they act as a drag on the Scottish economy and that affects us all.
Unequal distribution of income, power and wealth, poor quality and poorly paid work, poor quality housing all affect outcomes in both physical and mental health and wellbeing.
I welcome the attention that this Cross Parliamentary Group is giving to the issue. You bring evidence of what the issues are and examples of what does and does not help to address these.
I look forward to us working together, and with Public Health Scotland, into the future to make Scotland a better place to grow up in and live in.
View the photos from the evening here: