Scotland needs a reworked version of New Deal to tackle health inequality and poverty, a renowned academic told a gathering of leading voluntary sector representatives.
Investing in health – even during economic downturns – will make Scotland’s social fabric stronger and reduce state dependency in the long run.
David Stuckler (below), professor of political economy and sociology at Oxford University, told Scotland’s Third Sector Summitin Glasgow the raft of welfare cuts being endured by the UK was creating inequality at a pace never seen before.
The conference was themed around tackling inequality in a changing world, with an emphasis on health.
Stuckler called for a reworked New Deal – based on the 1930s American economic programme instigated by President Roosevelt which set the country on the road to recovery after the Great Depression – as a way of dealing with inequality in society.
"My plan for Scotland is simple – it's worked in the past and it will work again," he said.
"I call it the new New Deal based on three principles: first do no harm – if austerity was a drug trial it would have been abandoned.
"Second: treat unemployment like the pandemic it is – it creates mental health problems, health problems and substance misuse.
"Finally, invest in public health – poor health costs more in the long run."
Stuckler, who for the last 15 years has studied how Britain’s society and communities are organised and how economy and health impacts on the way people live, also said health should not be compromised even when the country was in recession.
And he warned: “Investing in health is a wise choice in the good times and an urgent necessity in the worst times.”
The academic told delegates history was replete with instances where failure to invest in health created far reaching consequences – a poorer, more reliant society.
“By purporting to save money via welfare reforms, the irony is our debt has shot up,” he said.
“And we hear there are green shoots of recovery in terms of the economy. However communities will tell you something very different as they deal with the hardships of the government’s welfare strategy,” he said.
He talked about the rise in the government’s sanctioning regime and its consequences on those receiving benefits.
“As a result we see a rise in first-world hunger illustrated by the massive rise in foodbanks across the UK,” he said. “These are concentrated in areas where there has been greater cuts and more application of adverse sanctions.
“The net effect on this attack on the weak has been a pattern of inequality.”
The welfare state, he said, was created during the post war years – the greatest period of economic hardship Britain has ever endured.
“When we founded the welfare state in 1948, debt didn’t rocket out of control. Instead it was a turning point, falling in half within a decade and kept falling until the early 1980s.”
Gerry McLaughlin, chair of NHS Scotland, added: “We have failed to organise our public sector response in a way that effectively tackles social inequalities and deal with the effects of poverty, ill health poor employment and prospects for communities across the breadth of Scotland.”
Later in a workshop hosted by Grant Campbell of Glasgow City Mission and Martin Cawley, Turning Point Scotland, delegates heard how intervention programmes led by the third sector worked to help some of the most marginalised.
“Investing in projects that give opportunities to even the most disadvantaged can have huge returns for communities and society,” said Cawley. “We’ve been working with vulnerable clients for years and know preventative spending isn’t a myth – it works.”