Health inequalities 'hushed up'
Press release issued: 9 September 2005
Researchers from the University of Bristol have accused the government of suppressing their latest report on health inequalities, showing that the gap between the rich and poor in England has continued to widen under New Labour.
In this week's edition of the BMJ (British Medical Journal), Dr Mary Shaw and Professor George Davey Smith of Bristol's Department of Social Medicine and colleagues at the Universities of Sheffield and Edinburgh argue that the report appeared at a time when the responsible minister was on holiday and her deputy unavailable - curiously reminiscent of the deliberately covert release of the Black Report on an August Bank holiday Monday in 1980. Labour, then in opposition, was "incensed" by this cover up attempt.
Even stranger, say the authors, the press release referring to the report deflected attention from its main message by focusing on the introduction of "health trainers". The scientific endorsement of the report was also at odds with its key findings.
To dismiss health inequalities as minimal is surely misleading when even the most conservative measures show that infants in poorer areas of England are at least twice as likely to die in their first year of life than those in more affluent areas, they write.
The hushed up release of this report raises fears that the bold statements and unprecedented promises of Labour's first years in power (for example, the pledge to eradicate child poverty within a generation) have now been wholly overtaken by the individualistic rhetoric of behavioural prevention and "choosing health" and its three principles of "informed choice, personalisation, and working together," say the authors.
They suggest that rather than focusing on changing the health choices of millions of individuals, the government should think more about a healthier way to govern and at last choose to use the tax and benefit systems to curb growing social inequalities in income and wealth.
M Shaw, G Davey Smith, D Dorling, R Mitchell: Labour's "Black report" moment? BMJ Volume 331, p 575