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Health Inequalities

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:53 pm on 4th March 2020.

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Photo of Philippa Whitford Philippa Whitford Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Health and Social Care), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union) 4:53 pm, 4th March 2020

If the right hon. Gentleman waits to hear the rest of my speech, I will highlight some of the differences in child poverty.

We have seen life expectancy for those women falling, but when we look at healthy life expectancy, the gaps are even bigger. Time spent in poor health is increasing, and that of course puts pressure on the NHS and care services. We in this Chamber are always discussing the pressure that the NHS is under. Emergency admissions in areas with low life expectancy are double the numbers in wealthier areas. Women in deprived areas will now spend two decades or more of their life in poor health. Improving the healthy life expectancy by at least five years was actually a policy in the industrial strategy, so that people could be active and engaged in the economy, but what we have seen is an adverse effect both on health and health equality.

We know that someone’s health for most of their life is determined in the early years, even starting when their mother is pregnant. Child poverty is central to this and it is rising. It is defined as children in households with less than 60% of median income. England had child poverty down to 27%, but it is now 31%. Scotland had it down to 21%, and it is now 24%. That is because welfare changes are taking place right across the UK. Poverty is decided in this Chamber; it is not decided anywhere else, and the Scottish Parliament, as we have heard, spends a lot of energy on trying to mitigate it.

As we know, housing costs are a major contributor because of the shortage of housing. This is a rising issue among the poorest: 38% of the poorest will spend 30% or more of their income on rent or housing. That figure was 28% 10 years ago. The Scottish Government have built 87,000 affordable houses, and that is part of why our child poverty level is lower. It is the housing impact. In the 2015 general election, the Conservatives promised 200,000 starter homes. They built precisely zero.

Some 4 million children are growing up in poverty, and that will affect their whole lives. Whenever the issue is raised at the Dispatch Box, we are told that unemployment is down and that people must work their way out of poverty. We are told that that is how we change things, yet two thirds of those children already have a working parent. The problem is that all of this drives ill health.