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Health Inequalities

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:12 pm on 4th March 2020.

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Photo of Catherine West Catherine West Labour, Hornsey and Wood Green 6:12 pm, 4th March 2020

I commend the speech of Miriam Cates, and also the two excellent maiden speeches from my hon. Friends the Members for City of Durham (Mary Kelly Foy) and for Coventry North West (Taiwo Owatemi).

I want to use this very short speech to promote the excellent work of the Haringey fairness commission. A number of local authorities have established fairness commissions to look into what can be done in their neighbourhoods. My hon. Friend Karin Smyth, who is not currently in the Chamber, spoke very well about the need for properly funded local authorities to have the key to addressing the need for high-quality early intervention, health and education services, and, of course, income. I think that if local authorities had a greater duty to stamp out the scourge of low pay, we would see a greater improvement in health. We know that 25% of people in Haringey are still not receiving the London living wage. If a quarter of our workers received that improved hourly rate, it would have a huge impact on their health.

We know from the work of the Equality Trust and a number of professors, including Professor Marmot from the Institute of Health Equity, that the problem is not just about people not having money in their pockets, but about the income gap. That applies to many of our London constituencies. Those who get on to the 41 bus at Turnpike Lane and travel west will go through areas where longevity increases by a couple of years for every mile travelled. There is currently six years’ difference between living in Turnpike Lane in the east of my constituency and living in Highgate village in the west. That is not acceptable.

This is the challenge that we face. It is not just about the fact that you do not have money in your pocket, but about the fact that the person sitting next to you may be doing very well, perhaps in owner-occupied housing and with a healthy pension, while you are still struggling to work into your 70s and also living with a chronic health condition. That is what inequality means, and I wonder sadly whether the covid-19 crisis will show just how unequal the virus will be in the victims whom it will tragically take. I fear that it will tend to be the people who are living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and other chronic illnesses who lose their lives, because of our health inequalities and because our services do not match the aspirations of Members on both sides of the House.

Let me once more commend the work of the Haringey fairness commission, which is hot off the press and which everyone can read online.