Reducing health inequalities is one of the biggest challenges that we face. They are a symptom of wider economic inequalities, which is why the Government will continue to take action and has invested £296 million since 2013 in mitigating the harmful effects of the United Kingdom Government’s welfare reform. It is concerning that, between 2012 and 2015, life expectancy rates remained static, although we have seen an increase over the year from 2015 to 2016.
The causes of Scottish mortality are complex, multiple and interwoven. That was the conclusion of the Glasgow Centre for Population Health’s landmark report in 2016. Danny Dorling, who is a professor of geography at the University of Oxford, said over the weekend that austerity measures may have contributed to the stalling in life expectancy. He said:
“I don’t think it has anything to do with the SNP government. I think the same thing would have occurred had Labour held power in Scotland. It is the fall in funding due to the financial crash of 2008.”
The Deputy First Minister will know that life expectancy levels in the east end of Glasgow are dramatically lower than those in other, more affluent parts of the city. The Commonwealth games offered an unparalleled opportunity to take specific action to reduce health inequalities and mortality rates in the neighbourhoods that hosted the games, yet it seems that no targets were set to achieve that. The London boroughs that hosted the 2012 Olympics set themselves the explicit target of narrowing the gap between male and female life expectancies in the east end and those in the rest of London. Does the Deputy First Minister agree that Glasgow should follow London’s lead on that? What actions will the Scottish ministers take to address the health inequalities that persist in Glasgow?
I reiterate the point that I made in my initial answer. The implications of austerity have increased the challenge that we face in addressing long-term health inequalities that have been present in Scottish society for the whole of my lifetime.
The Government is taking a co-ordinated approach to tackling the issues through the measures that Mr Brown is taking on the regeneration of the east end of Glasgow and the support that we have put in place for the Clyde Gateway; the work that Shona Robison undertakes with the health service to ensure that we have an integrated service in areas of multiple deprivation that addresses not just the health needs of individuals but the whole wellness agenda; and the work that I undertake through measures such as the pupil equity fund, which is targeted directly at supporting young people from deprived backgrounds to achieve their potential in our education system. Schools in the east end of Glasgow are—rightly—benefiting enormously from such measures. There are also the measures that Angela Constance is taking as part of the Government’s social security work, to ensure that we focus on supporting the vulnerable in our society.
I reassure Mr Tomkins of the Scottish Government’s determination across all our responsibilities to focus on ending the income inequalities that have bedevilled so many individuals in our society and to ensure that every individual has the opportunity to progress in our society, although people’s health difficulties and background may have undermined that.