Institute for Social Renewal

Health, Inequality & Wellbeing

Health, Inequality & Wellbeing

Overview

This theme explores the fundamental issue of inequality and discrimination in society, the relationship between inequality and health, and how wellbeing relates to social justice and social change.

“Social injustice is killing people on a grand scale,” according to Sir Michael Marmot’s World Health Organisation report on the social determinants of health. 1

There is evidence of this all around us. Women and men in the poorest areas of Newcastle die younger and live a larger proportion of their lives with a disability, compared to those in the richest areas. There is a difference of 12.6 years in male life expectancy between South Gosforth and Byker. Meanwhile, almost one in three children in Newcastle are classed as living in poverty.

This theme explores the fundamental issue of inequality in society, more specifically the relationship between inequality, health, wellbeing and resilience. This can be investigated though a broad set of indicators such as social mobility, education opportunities, health care and community spirit. This investigation is crucial in considering how society functions and how individuals may live a good life. This includes having the support and capability to cope in tough times, such as difficult personal circumstances, the current climate of austerity and public sector cuts to key services.

Our academics seek to understand the social determinants of health and wellbeing and have expertise in researching health inequalities and conceptualising and measuring wellbeing. Research topics include exploring the impact of ageing on wellbeing and resilience; the connection between nutrition and public health; and the prevention of alcohol misuse

We explore how changes in access to welfare entitlements or health and social care services may widen health inequalities and impact on wellbeing. We investigate how to overcome barriers to provision. We are interested in working across disciplines to tackle root causes of poor health such as poor housing, environmental degradation and low employment opportunities.  We explore the relationship between wellbeing, inequalities in health and wealth and various forms of discrimination or exclusion.

 

Theme Champion: Dr Suzanne Moffatt, Senior Lecturer, Institute of Health and Society

 

1. World Health Organisation (2012) ‘Closing the Gap in a Generation: Health Equity through Action on the Social Determinants of Health’.

Children playing football with their father

Welfare reform

The implementation of the ‘Removal of the Spare Room Subsidy’ in April 2013, commonly known as the ‘bedroom tax’ affects an estimated 660,000 working age social housing tenants in the UK. When introduced, the Government’s official impact assessment predicted that this change would have no social impact, nor any impacts on health.

Dr Suzanne Moffatt, from the Institute of Health and Society has been working with a team to examine the impact of lowered income as a result of this tax, in a North East England community in which 68.5 per cent of residents live in social housing.

The study was commissioned by Newcastle City Council and is a real example of the civic university in practice; our researchers exploring a key topic of societal relevance. You can download the PDF above, or read the full report in the Journal of Public Health.

The research findings are very powerful; income reduction affected purchasing power for essentials, particularly food and utilities. Participants recounted negative impacts on mental health, family relationships and community networks. The hardship and debt that people experienced adversely affected their social relationships and ability to carry out normal social roles. Residents and service providers highlighted negative impacts on the neighbourhood, as well as added pressure on already strained local services.

The study findings were presented to Newcastle City Council at an event on 5 February at which Prof Ted Schrecker, Professor of Global Health Policy at Durham University gave a keynote speech.

The work on the impact of changes to the UK welfare system, is being developed as part of an Economic and Social Science Doctoral Training Centre PhD, entitled, The impacts of welfare reform on income, health, wellbeing and diet: a mixed-methods study of a deprived area in Newcastle upon Tyne, England.   PhD Student, Joel Halligan started the research in Oct 2015 and is due to complete in March 2019.  This PhD is a collaboration between Newcastle and Durham Universities and Newcastle City Council.  The supervisory team are: Dr. Suzanne Moffatt – Institute of Health and Society, Newcastle University, Professor Clare Bambra – Centre for Health and Inequalities Research, Durham University, Dr. Wendy Wrieden – Institute of Health and Society, Newcastle, and Neil Munslow MBE, Service Manager, Active Inclusion, Newcastle City Council.

Welfare Reform

School meals

The process and impact of change of school food policy on food and nutrient intake of children aged 4-7 and 11-12 years

Reducing the prevalence of overweight and obesity in young people is a prime objective of UK health strategy and has placed improving children’s diet high up the policy agenda. Recommendations were made in 2005 for minimum nutritional standards for school meals in England, and all schools had to be compliant by September 2009.

Professor Adamson and Professor White undertook a research project in the North East, to understand how these changes have been implemented and the impact of these upon children and young people. The research identified that there is the potential for school lunch to have a positive impact on the total diet, particularly for 4-7yr olds. To maximise this impact there is a need for a concerted effort to ensure full compliance with the school meals policy for all age groups and ideas to encourage children to take advantage of school lunch.

School cafeteria

Disabled young bodies

Embodied Selves in Transition: Disabled Young Bodies

Physically disabled young people often experience pain; in addition their bodies are undergoing changes associated with adolescence. We do not know much about what this is like for young people and what this means for them. Adolescence is a period surrounded by social and cultural expectations, influenced by notions of what is thought of as normal. The research considers: what is it like to be disabled and live with pain, as you move towards adulthood? This research is being undertaken by Dr McLaughlin, Professor Colver and Professor Olivier.

Measuring wellbeing

Measuring Wellbeing: Towards Sustainability?

Karen Scott’s new book, 'Measuring Wellbeing: Towards Sustainability' provides a critical introduction to the concept of wellbeing and its measurement. It highlights tensions between various ideas of wellbeing (e.g. societal and individual) and sustainable development.

It includes discussions on how to develop measures of wellbeing in context and through democratic participation and outlines a detailed case study in a local authority which tried to put the theory into practice. The book advocates an approach based on recognising and valuing conflicting views where notions of participation and power are central to discussions.

Measuring Wellbeing is divided into two parts. The first part provides a critical review of the field, drawing widely on international research but contextualised within recent UK wellbeing policy discourses. The second part embeds the theory in a case study based on the author’s own experience of trying to develop quality of life indicators within a local authority, against the backdrop of increasing national policy interest in measuring ‘happiness’.