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Health Inequalities

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:38 pm on 4th March 2020.

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Photo of Fleur Anderson Fleur Anderson Labour, Putney 6:38 pm, 4th March 2020

Health inequality is explicitly linked to the wider inequality caused by 10 years of austerity policies. Labour’s record shows that health inequality and child poverty—they are very much linked—are not inevitable and that Governments can address them effectively, but this Government have had a decade to do that and have simply not done enough. Huge health inequalities exist in my constituency. I shall concentrate on healthy food, housing and air pollution.

Roehampton includes areas that are among the 20% most deprived areas in England, and the 10% most deprived with respect to income and housing. Health levels in Roehampton are consistently lower than those in the wider London Borough of Wandsworth. Average life expectancy is 7.4 years less for men and 5.5 years less for women in Roehampton than in Thamesfield ward at the other end of my constituency. Men in the Alton and Putney Vale area of Roehampton spend up to 6.6 years fewer in good health than the Wandsworth average and women up to 4.9 years fewer. It is a scandal.

In one area of Roehampton, people feel like they are living in a food desert. These are urban areas where it is difficult to buy affordable, good-quality fresh food. That is a poor phenomenon across the country.

Cuts to transport and just having one small supermarket in an area are really big issues. That is a matter of town planning which could be addressed by the future high streets fund. Furthermore, more funding for councils could be used to help establish fresh food shops. Community organisations could also be used.

Linked to this is the high level of overcrowding in Roehampton. The biggest reason for people coming to my surgeries since I was elected is mould. Children growing up in homes with damp and mould are prone to asthma, and are often not able to go to school. Poor housing also means less physical activity, loss of sleep and missing school, and those problems are exacerbated in temporary accommodation where, often, there is no fridge, no cooker and no space to prepare food. I call for a public health review of our temporary accommodation.

Finally, air quality is not just a public health issue, but a social justice issue. Poorer families are less likely to have a car, but also more likely to live on the most polluted streets. To tackle this, we need a legally binding commitment to meet the World Health Organisation guideline levels for fine particulate matter; a strengthened Office for Environmental Protection; and targets and funding for councils to have a modal shift towards cycling and walking. These are public health issues. Residents of Putney, Roehampton and Southfields face health inequalities, and the Government need to start listening and take action.