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Sat, 15 June 2024

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Reducing inequalities will deliver a fairer Britain

(Geoff Smith / Alamy Stock Photo)

3 min read

The row over HS2 and decision to scrap the Birmingham to Manchester leg is yet another example of the government’s lack of meaningful commitment to the North and levelling up the country.

In 2009, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett’s book, The Spirit Level, set out why a more equal society is better for everyone. It was compelling. It revealed a more equal society results in better mental health, higher educational attainment, greater social mobility, less crime, more trust between communities and so on – benefitting all citizens.  

In 2010, the totemic report from Sir Michael Marmot, Fair Society, Healthy Lives, set out how to address the socioeconomic inequalities that determine our health. However, The Marmot Review 10 Years On revealed that instead of improving our life chances, a decade of regressive public spending cuts, stifled growth, and a lack of investment in the NHS, actually increased health inequalities.  

Life expectancy in the poorest areas, particularly for women, is now decreasing, contrary to all other advanced economies – except the United States and Iceland. The report also revealed the growing North-South health divide was once again rearing its ugly head.  

Tackling inequalities, especially in health, was the reason I became an MP

And then of course, the Covid-19 pandemic ripped through the country, exposing and amplifying these existing inequalities. Recent analysis found that a deprived area in the North of England had higher Covid cases and deaths compared with an equally deprived area in the South. 

The country as a whole is still reeling from the pandemic, as my short documentary, The Unequal Pandemic, exposed. It revealed who – people of colour, disabled people and people on low incomes – and where – the North West and North East of England – was worst affected and the devastation through the eyes and experiences of three Covid-bereaved families. I remain unconvinced that policymakers are acting on this evidence.  

So, what should this mean for Labour’s manifesto? I welcome the mission to develop a fairer Britain, where everyone lives well for longer. This includes the need to focus on tackling health inequalities through prevention, a “health in all policies” approach, and NHS reform .  

On page one of Labour’s manifesto, I’d like to see a declaration that Labour is the party of equality and social justice. This must be at the heart of all our policies, driving our missions, strategies and plans. We will build a better, fairer Britain. 

In addition, we need reassurance that our political culture is going to change. This requires us to tackle the inequality in power before our democracy is irreparably damaged, impacting on our ability to govern. Labour has committed to an Ethics Commission, but what about the other recommendations set out in my Elected Representatives Codes of Conduct Bill? 

Finally, we cannot allow so many to continue struggling just to survive while we repair the broken economy the Conservatives have left us. People are on their last legs and can’t wait another few weeks, let alone a few years. This is especially so for people of working age who are on the lowest incomes or aren’t able to work through sickness or disability.  

I urge colleagues to take up the offer of Patriotic Millionaires UK to tax their wealth, as many European countries already do, so we can immediately transform our shattered social security system to one that protects people from poverty and provides support delivered with compassion.

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