“Health Lies in Wealth” is the conclusion of a new report by Catholic Health Australia, which asked the question—how well do the most disadvantaged groups of Australia’s population of working age fare compared with the most advantaged?
The answer was undeniable—irrespective of how socio-economic status or health was measured, the poor and working class had significantly worse health. Some of the results were astounding: 65 per cent of those on the lowest income suffer from a long-term health problem compared to 15 per cent of those on the highest income. Average life expectancy from the lowest socio-economic group is 3.1 years lower than the highest socio-economic group. Socio-economic status is a more accurate predictor of a person’s chance of dying from cardiovascular disease—the biggest killer of Australians—than blood pressure, cholesterol levels and smoking combined.
New South Wales Health’s report Healthy People this year showed that a gap in life expectancy at birth of between 3-5 years has remained between the wealthiest and the poorest in NSW over the last 20 years. One of the important contributors to this was the difficulty getting access to health care. In 2006, 15 per cent of respondents in the most disadvantaged one fifth of society, compared with 5.9 per cent of respondents in the least disadvantaged one fifth of society reported difficulty accessing health care.
Catholic Health Australia CEO Martin Laverty says the report makes clear that “policies targeting behavioural change do not work”.
Yet the current priorities of the federal government focus on campaigns to promote healthy lifestyles, encouraging public-private partnerships to improve services, and increasing “consumer choice” through strong private sector involvement in health. These priorities show a clear ideological commitment to the idea that health is primarily determined by personal “choices”, and that privatisation is the means by which government can improve health outcomes.
The health gap between the rich and poor is very real and is not decreasing.
The real solution for health is policies that close that gap—and they’re not going to come from the top.