A new report on health inequalities says business has a role to play and a vested interest in promoting health equity.
A major review of health inequities has outlined a roadmap for the role of industry in ‘levelling up’.
The UCL Institute of Health Equity in partnership with Legal & General have launched The Business of Health Equity: The Marmot Review for Industry, which sets out three ways that business can improve people’s lives by reducing health inequality. They are promoting the health of employees through pay and benefits, hours and job security and conditions of work; supporting the health of clients, customers and shareholders through products and services they provide and investments they make; and influencing the health of individuals in the communities through investment influence, procurement and supply networks.
The report says employers who focus on health will gain a more productive workforce. The report says that it has been estimated, for example, that 30% of the shortfall in productivity in the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ compared with the rest of England is due to ill health.
Legal & General and UCL IHE have formed a four-year partnership to further the role of business in reducing inequalities in health in the UK and to establish a UK-wide health equity network.
The Review goes further than workforce health because to include a framework for how businesses of all size can become a partner in creating healthier societies by reducing health inequities – considering their products and influences as well as employees’ health.
Researchers says business has a responsibility to address health inequalities in part because of the health impact of poor working conditions, for instance, excessive working hours are linked to premature deaths from stroke and heart disease; the food industry spends 27 times more on advertising than the UK government budgets on promoting healthy eating, but obesity is a major social determinant of a shorter healthy life expectancy and contributed towards many deaths during Covid; the minimum wage is often insufficient to live a healthy life; pay for sickness absence is so low and many of the lowest earners are not eligible; and unhealthy environments cause a quarter of all deaths globally – for instance, polluting industrial sites or transport often move to disadvantaged neighbourhoods, exacerbating health inequities.
Professor Michael Marmot, Director of UCL’s Institute of Health Equity, said: “This report builds on the good practices of businesses that are showing the way. It also shows that it is in the interest of business to have regard to health equity as well as to ESG, environment, social and governance. More generally, it recognises that business can and should be responsible actors that can improve the quality of people’s lives, the environment, and as a result be forces for good in creating greater health equity.”