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The whole of the government is taking action across the board to tackle inequalities in health. And it's being done...
The whole of the government is taking action across the board to tackle inequalities in health. And it's being done in a new spirit of optimism bolstered by the conviction that we can make our country a healthier place says Frank Dobson, secretary of state for health. Mr Dobson said:

'When Tony Blair appointed me secretary of state for health, he gave me the task of renewing the national health service and of improving the health of the people of this country improving not just healthcare, but also improving health. And that's what we've started to do.

'We've started on that process of working in a new spirit of optimism bolstered by the conviction that we can make our country a healthier place for all our people. We've got to stop people getting ill in the first place. We ve got to drive up standards of public health. And that's what we are determined to do.

'People's chances of a long and healthy life are heavily influenced by how well or badly off they are, where they live and by their ethnic background. Poor people in poor areas are sick more often and die sooner. And that's the greatest inequality of all - the difference between life and death.

'And our commitment to reducing these massive inequalities in health isn't just a matter for the department of health. If it's to work, the whole of the government must play its part. And it is. The prime minister is passionate about reducing these inequalities. The whole of the government is committed to the task. Let me give you some examples of what is being done right across government.

'Far too many people are being made ill by what they eat. Food poisoning has trebled in the last decade. So we are taking action to

improve food safety. Only yesterday the agriculture minister, Jack Cunningham and I announced details of how we intend improve the health of the nation by introducing a Food Standards Agency. It will be an independent, powerful agency for change and improvement making for safer food and greater confidence for consumers. That will improve public health.

'Not having somewhere decent to live is bad for health. So we are tackling the problem of homelessness and bad housing. John Prescott and his team at the department of transport, environment and the regions are working to improve the health of the badly housed by using the takings from the sale of council houses to build new homes. That will improve standards of health.

'So will the work his department is doing to cut traffic pollution, which we all know damages the health of millions of children and

vulnerable people, particularly frail and elderly people with respiratory problems. But it's not just John Prescott who is playing his part.

'Being out of work is bad for your health. David Blunkett and his team are working to improve the health of the jobless by getting them back to work and the whole of the government is committed to the welfare to work programme financed by the windfall levy on the utilities. That will have a direct beneficial effect on people's health.

'Being poor makes people ill. So Margaret Beckett's team will improve the health of millions of families by putting an end to poverty pay

with the national minimum wage. That will give families more money to buy decent clothes for their kids and not to have to worry about where the money is coming from to put the next meal on the table. So the national minimum wage is a public health measure as well as a social justice measure.

'Being cold in winter is bad for your health. And very many old folk and families on low incomes in our country have been able to better

look after their health this winter, because of one very simple measure. That's the action taken by Gordon Brown, in the government's

first budget, to honour our promise to cut VAT on fuel.

'These are the actions the government is taking right across the board. They will all improve the health of the people affected. They are all targeted as they should be - on the people who are worst off. So they will all help reduce inequalities in health.

'But it's not just a job for central government and the NHS. It's a job for local councils, voluntary organisations and businesses in every locality all working together through health improvement programmes to improve things locally.

'What I want to see being done now is for health authorities, councils and other local bodies to make sure that their policies improve health and to measure the impact of what they're doing on the health of local people. There's no need to wait for changes in the law. Local small area surveys can be done now providing useful information and showing what can be achieved. And that's really important. It shows that things that are wrong can be put right, that making the effort is worthwhile that avoidable sickness and injury really can be avoided.

'It shows that we can modernise our country, every part of our country, to make it cleaner and fairer, more prosperous and healthier. It shows that we are most likely to achieve what we want by working together rather than working against one another. We need partnership for change and improvement. That will all go towards delivering that new spirit of optimism that's crucial to the task of making our country is a better place in which to live'.


1. Mr Dobson was speaking at the tenth anniversary conference of the Public Health Alliance being held at the Sheffield Hallam University on 15 and 16 January.

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