Employers are being urged to use the example of the government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda to improve people’s working lives by reducing health inequalities.
The UCL Institute of Health Equity in partnership with Legal & General has launched a report, The Business of Health Equity: The Marmot Review for Industry, as a follow-on to both the seminal Marmot Review published a decade ago plus a ten-year review published in February 2020.
This latest review has argued that ill health is responsible for 30% of the shortfall in productivity in the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ compared with the rest of England.
For no good biological reason, life expectancy stalled in 2019 then fell for men and women by approximately a whole year (the level of a decade ago) because of the Covid-19 pandemic (from 79.9 years and 83.6 years to 78.6 years and 82.6 years respectively).
Excessive working hours, the research has argued, are linked to premature deaths from stroke and heart disease – approximately one in eight workers work more than 48 hours per week in the UK, rising to one in six in London.
The food industry spends 27 times more on advertising than the UK government budgets on promoting healthy eating. Yet obesity is a major social determinant of a shorter healthy life expectancy and contributed towards many deaths during Covid.
The statutory minimum wage, even though it has risen this month, is often insufficient to live a healthy life – most people in the UK in poverty are in paid work.
The report has also argued that pay for sickness absence is essential to physical and mental health yet UK statutory sick pay is one of the lowest in the EU, and many low earners are not even eligible.
The report has recommended employers provide sufficient pay and in-work benefits, ensure healthy working conditions, and ensure good employee physical and mental health.
Professor Michael Marmot, director of UCL’s Institute of Health Equity, said: “The Covid-19 pandemic made clear a failing economy damages health. Until now the social determinants of health equity have been the responsibility of government and civil society. Business can be part of the problem of health inequalities.
“More positively, it can be part of the solution and has a key part to play in improving these social conditions that affect health and health equity: in conditions of work and employment; in goods and services; and in impact on the wider society and environment,” he added.