November 30, 2023
People blame the economy and work for health problems – not just the NHS

People blame the economy and work for health problems – not just the NHS

The majority of people believe that their health and the health of their families is being harmed by the cost of living crisis and their jobs, according to a survey by Opinium for the Fairness Foundation, shared exclusively with New statesman in the spotlight today (November 20).

In a groundbreaking study of public attitudes, the Fairness Foundation has revealed surprising insights into the web of factors that influence the health and wellbeing of people in Britain. The report, titled “Socially Determined”, analyzes fieldwork carried out by Opinium in September this year, with a nationally and politically representative sample of 2,038 adults across the UK. The results shed light on a growing awareness among the public that health outcomes are linked to a range of social determinants that go beyond individual choices and the quality of health care.

One of the study’s most significant revelations is the widespread impact of work on people’s health across all age and income groups. Sixty-nine per cent of 18-34 year olds, 64 per cent of working individuals and 63 per cent of those living in households earning more than £60,000 identified work as a negative influence on their health. This highlights a worrying trend in which working conditions, long working hours, stress and injuries in the workplace, for example, play a substantial role in compromising the well-being of a significant part of the population.

On Wednesday, Jeremy Hunt, the Chancellor, is expected to announce new measures to tackle long-term mass illness in the UK. The ONS has calculated that the number of people unemployed due to long-term illness is now more than 2.5 million. While the government is expected to focus on introducing punitive disability benefit measures and return-to-work schemes to reduce this figure, there has been little discussion of the importance of improving working conditions or increasing wages.

Additionally, the Fairness Foundation study investigates several social and environmental factors that contribute to health problems. Sixty-two percent of respondents expressed concerns about inadequate health services affecting their health or that of their families. Furthermore, 50 percent pointed to the economic situation as a negative influence on health, which shows widespread recognition of the impact of the cost of living crisis. The report also revealed that 52 percent of individuals recognize the effects of their own lifestyle choices on their health.

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When presented with case studies on various health issues, respondents overwhelmingly recognized the role of economic and environmental factors in people’s health, rather than solely blaming the state of the NHS or individual lifestyles. For example, when respondents were shown a case study of person B, who suffered from generalized anxiety disorder, a surprisingly high proportion of respondents (47 percent) identified the impact of poverty on this person’s health as the most important factor. In many different cases, respondents identified factors such as lifestyle, poverty, work and the environment as the most important, to the detriment of health care. This nuanced understanding of the determinants of health challenges typical perspectives on healthcare accountability and suggests public appetite for a holistic approach to healthcare across policy areas, rather than focusing solely on the NHS.

Regarding addressing health inequalities, the study revealed a shift in public opinion. While respondents still place some responsibility on individuals, a significant number said they believe the government should address social issues. Notably, 52 percent supported raising taxes to increase spending on health inequities, including 44 percent of 2019 conservative voters. Just 7 percent supported reducing spending in this critical area.

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The findings show, however, that there is still public appetite to improve NHS waiting lists and GP appointment times. Although 23 percent of respondents considered reducing health inequalities a priority – marking a notable increase on previous surveys – it still ranked lower than making it easier to obtain GP appointments (52 percent), increasing the number of staff in the NHS (49 per cent). percent) and reducing waiting times for planned operations (44 percent).

Will Snell, chief executive of the Fairness Foundation, highlighted the importance of recognizing the wider factors that affect health: “Ordinary Brits know that the problems facing the NHS are just part of the picture when it comes to their health. The vote should be a wake-up call for employers. People know that social determinants such as poor working conditions and poverty go hand in hand with individual lifestyle choices in terms of impact on their well-being. Companies need to do more to address the health impact of work.

“And it is a myth that the public does not see the State playing an important role. We urgently need an ambitious government program to tackle health inequalities and put an end to the idea that the public is opposed to state intervention.”

The Fairness Foundation’s full “Socially Determined” report is here.

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