THE BLOG

The Labour Manifesto Is A New Deal For Public Health

19/05/2017 16:28 BST | Updated 19/05/2017 16:28 BST
missbobbit via Getty Images

The Labour manifesto represents the cutting edge of good public health policy. It recognises the importance of addressing the social determinants of health.

As a doctor and researcher on the economics of universal health, I'm impressed by Labour's manifesto. It's nothing less than a "New Deal" for Britain's public health. A blueprint for societal well-being. Brimming with credible ideas, robustly costed and a masterful example of joined-up thinking on public health policy.

Let's start with the NHS. The pledge to provide an extra £37billion over the next parliament is in keeping with the funding recommendations of the renowned, non-partisan think tank, The Kings Fund. It also represents a reversal of seven years of deliberate Conservative underfunding of our NHS.

Labour will also repeal the Health and Social Care Act, a piece of legislation which was introduced under the previous Coalition government with a view to fragmenting the NHS and paving the way for privatisation.

There's lots more to love about Labour's NHS policies, but what's especially interesting for me is how the entire Manifesto places the physical, mental and social well-being of the British population at its core.

Social Determinants of Health play an intrinsic role in determining health outcomes. This is recognised internationally and is central to the World Health Organisation's public health thinking. Housing, sanitation, nutrition, private debt, education, employment conditions, fair pay, environmental stewardship and gender rights are all key social determinants of health.

These components have been undermined by the Tories. And it's ordinary people who are paying the price; the twin burdens of societal morbidity and mortality are mediated through differences in social-class. A 10-year difference in life-expectancy persists between the healthiest and unhealthiest areas of the UK, and the gap is widening. Four million children in the UK live in poverty, and for the first time in decades that number is now rising. Lack of or poor Housing, poor diet and financial insecurity are causing respiratory illness, growth stunting, obesity and mental health issues in countless children in this country.

Local authority budgets, which are responsible for many of the social determinants of health, have been slashed by this Government; and these cuts have been cynically targeted towards the poorest areas in the UK.

For me, as a medic and health researcher, the importance of the Labour manifesto is evident. It's permeated by the recognition that social predictors of health need to be addressed urgently. Labour has committed to a "National Education Service with free education for all, from cradle to grave". It is well recognised that an equitably educated population is integral to both individual health and societal cohesion.

Decent quality, affordable housing as well as new renter's rights and a commitment to publicly owned energy companies will mean that no child or elderly person will suffer from the health consequences of substandard housing or fuel poverty. A safeguarding of worker's rights after Brexit, alongside significant raises in the minimum wage and the end of exploitative, precarious work contracts will mean that one of the most prevalent obstacles to a healthy life (physical and mental stressors at work) will be mitigated.

The newly proposed "National Care Service" which brings NHS principles into community social care will protect the dignity of the elderly, the disabled and their carers. The commitment to free school meals for all primary school children, whilst being morally right, is also scientifically the right thing to do (there is overwhelming evidence that going to school hungry hampers kids learning). A new "Clean Air Act" will safeguard us from the hitherto massively overlooked health burden of pollution in our cities.

In my view, the Labour manifesto represents the cutting edge of good public health policy. It's refreshingly comprehensive and clear and sets out how it will fund all the reforms. Redistribution is the key word here. It's a word we shouldn't be afraid of using.

Questions of who should pay tax, how much and to what end that tax revenue is used are ultimately underpinned by a bigger question: how should the state distribute the fruits of the economy? And the answer to that question necessarily involves ethical and political judgements.

The Labour Party has proudly affirmed that the state should act in the interest of the many rather than the few. No doubt you will hear repeated scare-quotes, such as, "Labour plans amount to the biggest state intervention in the economy for decades", that redistribution is "dangerously left-wing" or "unworkable" and that nobody wants to see the return of the "the nanny, interventionist state".

I would urge you to recognise that the establishment will do everything it can to discredit the Labour manifesto and it's progressive tax policies. Why? Vested interests.

Theresa May and the Conservatives, over the last seven years, have presided over a deeply interventionist, redistributive state. But it has intervened on behalf of the powerful and against the vulnerable. It has redistributed wealth away from the many and towards the pockets of the super-rich. The Tories have expanded mass surveillance to an unprecedented degree, monitored and penalised migrants, the disabled and benefits claimants. They have introduced draconian anti-trade union laws and presided over an erosion of living standards for the vast majority of people in this country.

The Labour Party, will indeed also intervene and redistribute. But it will intervene on behalf of the many rather than the super-rich. On behalf of the vulnerable rather than the powerful. And it will redistribute the ample resources available in our society in order to reorient the state towards what it should be doing; guaranteeing the right to a flourishing life for all.