I was a GP in the poorer parts of Southampton and Cambridge, and so had the privilege of working in the National Health Service and experiencing the strengths of a universal safety net for health and social care, throughout thousands of individual encounters and confidences.

This experience has made me painfully aware of the link between inequalities in health and wealth; seeing how what you have and who you know deeply affect opportunity. As an academic as well as a practitioner I have tried to explore, by experiment and observation, how we can improve public health through sensitivity to individual circumstance.

In retirement I joined a remarkable group of academics from across disciplines in Cambridge, to better understand the wider causes of inequality in health. Working with historians, we have argued that health and welfare strengthen rather than burden the state. In 2017 we joined with the St John’s College Picture House, for an open viewing of Ken Loach’s film, I Daniel Blake, using film to complement evidence in understanding inequalities in health. The film shows how the institutions of our welfare state, which underpin the common bond of resilience and social security for all in times of vulnerability, were being used to stigmatise, humiliate, and divide. Bringing together evidence from individual story and economic analysis seemed to me to increase the impact of both, and the motivation for action.

Inequality of income, wealth, social standing, and health, their interrelationships and significance have been hotly contested in this country, with definitions, data collection and analysis confusing as well as making clear, for example, trends in poverty, distribution of income and wealth, and impact on health over time. However, beguiling workers with offers of self-employment and advancement without offering basic employment rights, while at the same time welfare safety nets are rolled back, have proved bad for the health (mental and physical) not only of vulnerable individuals but for families, society and the economy as a whole.

I asked in 2017: “what can we do?” This new workshop will show us Ken’s 2019 film Sorry We Missed You, in the context of the 1948 classic film Bicycle Thieves. It is an opportunity to ask that question again and with greater urgency. Sharing our views individually and listening carefully to others of different persuasion, our goal is to move beyond shared understanding to effective policy intervention.

Register now for the ‘Precarious lives: inequalities in health through the lens of the filmmaker’ workshop.

You can find out more on our website St John’s Reading Group on Health Inequalities.

Szreter, S., Kinmonth A. L., Kriznik, N. M. and Kelly, M. P. (2016) ‘Health and welfare as a burden on the state? The dangers of forgetting history‘ in The Lancet. Vol. 388, No. 10061. Pp. 2734-2735.


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