Background

The term ‘health inequality’ is usually employed to refer to differences in the health experiences of different population groups (e.g. different social classes, different neighbourhoods or ethnic groups). For example, in the UK, wealthier people tend to live for several years longer than those with more limited incomes. There is also a divide in life expectancy between the north and the south of the country and between more and less affluent neighbourhoods within cities.

Over the past 40 years, researchers working in the UK have undertaken multiple studies to try to better understand why these health inequalities exist and why they are so persistent. Since 1997, consecutive UK governments have also made commitments to reducing health inequalities. Reflecting this, a prominent international expert has described government-led policy efforts to reduce health inequalities as “historically and internationally unique” (Mackenbach, 2010). Despite this, by most measures, the UK’s health inequalities have continued to widen.

This project is aiming to get a better sense of what members of the UK public think about health inequalities. To what extent, for example, are governments responsible for differences in life expectancy between different groups and to what extent are these inequalities people’s own responsibility? What do people feel are the most important causes of health inequalities and why? What, if anything, ought to be done to tackle health inequalities? And how do the public’s views compare to researchers’ views?

So far, we have undertaken the following work:

  1. We have reviewed existing research exploring public understandings of health inequalities;
  2. We commissioned a national survey of a stratified random selection of people living in the UK (work undertaken by Opinium in Summer 2016)
  3. We held three two-day Citizen Juries in Glasgow, Liverpool and Manchester in July 2016 at which all participants were asked to complete individual questionnaires about health inequalities (at the beginning, mid-point and end) and to engage in deliberative discussions about the topic.

We are currently trying to follow up the three citizens’ juries with a final round of questionnaires to explore whether participants’ thoughts about health inequalities have changed further since the end of the juries.

The research is being led by researchers at the University of Edinburgh, Kat Smith and Rosie Anderson and also involves Oliver Escobar, Rebecca Hewer, Sarah Hill, Sarah Weakley, Gillian Anderson and Alex Wright (see Research Team). This website provides a few resources for anyone interested in engaging with the project. It will also be used to post about the results, once they are available, in Summer-Autumn 2017.