Inequality: A Danger to Public Health

At the time of this post, it has been revealed that only six people today have as much wealth as half of the global population. Inequality is getting worse in Western countries and is one of the leading concerns of public health as numerous studies over the past decade have concluded.

Work published by American Psychological Association (APA) shows that having low socioeconomic status increases the risk for mental illness. What this means is that poverty, housing unaffordability, and unemployment increases one’s chance of mental illness.

One of the greatest determinants of a person’s health is their income. Researchers Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson found that a 25-year gap exists in life expectancy between the rich and poor in the city of London. In 2014 in the UK, “the richest 10 percent [had] 850 times the wealth of the poorest 10 percent. As economic inequality has risen, so too has health inequality.”

Another study at the University of California, Davis shows that low socioeconomic status also increases the risk of heart disease.

Researchers at Washington University, St. Louis found out that poverty is linked to an increase in the risk of depression in children and also changes in brain connectivity. While another study based on 63 countries revealed that in the year 2009, around 46,000 suicides were related to unemployment. Therefore, regardless of one’s age group, inequality has shown to be linked to public health problems through one form or another.

What these works ultimately reveal is that rise in income and wealth inequality is a danger to public health and should be treated as such. From cardiovascular diseases to mental illnesses, inequality plays a vital role in a society in forming these health concerns.  

Canadian Inequality:

Canada is not immune to inequality and if you look at the data over the last 25 years, inequality is, in fact, rising in the country.

“In terms of inequality, Vancouver joins the club with Calgary, Toronto, and Montreal as cities where the gap between rich and poor is widening”. Toronto has seen an increase in poverty throughout many of its suburbs while there is a shrinkage of the middle class. According to Dr. Hulchanski, Vancouver has seen similar trends but the difference is because of inflow of foreign capital rather than high-paying jobs that are available in Toronto.

A recent article by Vancouver Sun noted that British Columbia, in fact, has “the second-highest poverty rate in Canada, with a large number of the poor working full-time.” Many of the jobs that the middle class depend on have either been completely eliminated or reduced through the rise of automation and instead, people have to settle for service sector jobs that pay lower than what they have been used to.

When we compare Canadian median total income before tax from 2005 to 2015, we see that there was only a 12.7% increase for the middle class whereas the top 10% had their income increase 16.4%.

Looking at the CEO incomes in Canada, it was revealed on January 2nd, 2018 that top executives are making 8% more than last year whereas the average Canadian is not even making 1% more. “Canada’s CEO pay broke a new record in 2016, with the 100 top-paid chief executives of publicly traded companies netting $10.4 million on average, or 209 times the average income” of Canadians.  

These statistics all point out to why there is an increasing inequality in Canada over the last two decades and ultimately a rise in public health risks.

Worker Co-operatives:

Inequality is a structural problem, meaning that a few policy changes or regulations will not change the trend on the whole. For example, more wealth transfer through welfare programs will help Canadians in the short term but it still will not tackle the problem of systematic inequality. Rather, it will only transfer funds from one group to another with the threat of public health risks still in the picture through uncertainties of whether or not these programs or policies will remain with future governments.

There needs to be an innovative approach to tackle inequality and one of those approaches could be through support of worker co-operatives in Canada. Worker cooperatives allow for people in a company to manage profits democratically. Instead of having CEOs who as stated before on average make 209 times more than the average Canadian worker or for example decide the employment of their works by moving the jobs overseas, the workers can manage the company themselves. This not only tackles inequality but has a positive impact on climate change, development of the local community and ultimately public health.

CWCF is an organization in Canada devoted to supporting and strengthening of worker co-operatives in Canada. For more information visit their website: http://canadianworker.coop

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs):

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) through their Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have listed reduction of inequality and eradication of poverty as two of their goals. By the year 2030, the target set for SDGs intends to “progressively achieve and sustain income growth of the bottom 40 percent of the population at a rate higher than the national average” while by the same year “reduce at least by half the proportion of men, women and children of all ages living in poverty in all its dimensions”.

These goals are certainly doable given the level of global technological advancement. However, implementation of policies to combat inequality and eliminate poverty requires an active voice and leadership from all members of the community including the business sector.

Worker co-operatives as mentioned are one way of making sure that companies are run democratically, thereby reducing inequality and poverty on the whole. Other potential policies would be to set up vertical farming in different parts of our community, which would allow for distribution of abundant levels of food for the members of that community.

 

Vertical Farming Shanghai
Vertical Gardens in Shanghai (Photo: Business Insider)

These are just a few examples of what possible policies can be implemented. Many other policies and progressive ideas can be thought of to combat inequality and poverty in order to significantly lower the dangers of public health in our society.

Written By UNA Vancouver blogger, Sasan Fouladirad.
Read more by Sasan

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