Social Inequalities Rather Than Individual Behaviour Choices Sociology Essay Example
Social Inequalities Rather Than Individual Behaviour Choices Sociology Essay Example

Social Inequalities Rather Than Individual Behaviour Choices Sociology Essay Example

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  • Pages: 7 (1826 words)
  • Published: July 24, 2017
  • Type: Essay
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This essay delves into the connection between socio-economic status and health inequalities, exploring how society's fundamental constructs impact health outcomes. Health inequalities refer to differences in health prospects and results among individuals or groups within society, where those of lower socio-economic status experience poorer health compared to their wealthier counterparts (Health Forum, 2003). Numerous studies and literature reviews have confirmed these disparities exist, with the "health gap" between rich and poor continuing to widen (Smith et al., cited in Davidson, Hunt & Kitzinger, 2003), which poses ethical and moral concerns.

The National Health Service (NHS) was established after World War II with the aim of reducing societal inequities by providing equal access to healthcare services for all citizens based on demand. This initiative was influenced by guidelines established by the Beveridge Report of 1942 calling for a welfare sys


tem as William Beveridge believed this was Britain's only way to conquer five major issues: Want, Ignorance, Disease, Sordidness, and Idleness. Funded by taxes, NHS has been instrumental in providing universal healthcare access while addressing societal inequities.

Despite predictions that medical advancements and an aging population would lead to increased costs resulting in financial pressures for NHS; however, the opposite occurred instead.Despite efforts to address health disparities, social class continues to play a significant role in determining health outcomes. This is evident in differences in infant mortality rates, life expectancy, and medical service usage. The Black Report in 1980 utilized the Registrar General's occupational classification system and revealed that those in social category V had twice the death rate of those in social category I due to economic and social factors like unemployment, substandard housing, and poor education. The

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report emphasized the need for public spending to alleviate deep-rooted causes of inequality beyond the NHS's scope. Moreover, Adams (2002) noted that The Black Report highlighted persistent inequalities based on socio-economic status and geography affecting people's health measured by morbidity (illness), accidents, and mortality rates. Thus, The Black Report provided insights into why health inequalities exist due to how social class constructs influence wellness rather than reflecting an actuality. In support of this claim is Black's study showing evidence that individuals from higher societal classes tend to have better health outcomes compared to their lower-class counterparts.Various aspects of social class and its impact on health have been explored, including cause of death, life expectancy, infant mortality rates, and mental illness. However, Illsley (1986) argued that there was an overemphasis on the statistical relationship between social class and illness. Social choice accounts suggest that it is actually one's health that determines their social class rather than the other way around. Naidoo and Wills (1994) suggested that healthy individuals experience upward mobility while those in lower social classes may suffer from increased death rates and illnesses/disabilities as they are pushed down the social ladder. Wadsworth's (1986) study found a strong correlation between childhood illness and adult social status demonstrating seriously ill boys were more likely to experience a decline in social class compared to others which is not accounted for in social choice models. Shaw et al.(1999) argue people from disadvantaged backgrounds face economic, social, and employment factors leading to poor health outcomes.According to Giddens (2006), one's position in society plays a crucial role in shaping their health instead of the other way around.The cultural/behavioral approach suggests

that choices made by individuals or groups also contribute to health inequalities such as smoking and excessive drinking which are more prevalent among lower social classes according to Macintyre(1986).The cultural aspect greatly influences the health outcomes of individuals as their attitudes, values, and beliefs can lead to neglecting their well-being. Health disparities arise due to the adoption of unhealthy behaviors by those belonging to less fortunate social groups compared to higher classes. Poor living conditions primarily determine poorer health outcomes among lower-class populations according to the structural/material approach due to limited income and opportunities. Poverty is a crucial factor connecting various hazardous aspects affecting public health such as unhealthy diets, substandard living conditions, unemployment, stress-related lifestyles leading to increased smoking and drinking habits with negative effects on long-term wellness. Societal inequalities significantly impact people's choices as poverty limits options for immediate gratification while depriving prospects for good education, housing, social life and self-esteem resulting in eventual negative impacts on overall well-being. The link between poverty and wellness issues is undeniable as it makes the poor more vulnerable to illnesses and premature death while also causing poor health and disability (Blackburn 1991).In England from 1999 to 2003, the North West and East regions had the highest poverty and death rates, according to National Statistics (2003). Marmot and Wilkinson's lecture notes suggest that social hierarchy and income inequalities cause stress and illness through emotional pathways, affecting individuals' wellbeing. Therefore, income equality is crucial in improving health outcomes as it helps "to improve social coherence and reduce social divisions" (Wilkinson 1997). Lower mortality rates are typically found in countries with less income inequality based on relative income standards

rather than differences in absolute income between countries. The Acheson Report was commissioned by the New Labour government in 1998 to update policies based on previous studies like the Black Report. It prioritized improving the health of families with children, raising standards for poor families, and reducing income inequalities after a thorough examination of disadvantaged populations. This study supported the Black Report's claim that poverty is at the root of inequality and discovered disparities between social classes persist despite decreasing death rates across all categories for both men and women over time. Inequality has even worsened in some regions. This research established a strong correlation between social class and poor health outcomes.Living in substandard housing often leads to poor health conditions. Health inequality can begin early in life and persist throughout one's lifetime as chronic illnesses develop during fetal life or soon after birth due to unhealthy habits such as smoking or drinking. These habits can directly affect fetal growth and development, leading to negative effects like low birth weight, intrauterine growth restriction, placental detachment, premature rupture of membranes, and preterm birth. Smoking during pregnancy can impact the development of both ovaries and testicles, increasing the risk of early onset menstruation or abortion in females and undescended testicles in boys.

Children's socioeconomic status is frequently measured by household income which influences various aspects of their growth, language proficiency, knowledge acquisition, social/emotional adaptation during childhood. Poverty along with living conditions and external environment are major contributors to illness and mortality rates among those lacking resources. Studies have linked poverty/class with health inequality; for instance moving from class I to IV increases the risk of death among child

pedestrians by five to seven times due to accidents like motor vehicle accidents, fires, falls or drowning.

Upon ascending power in 1997 the Labour government pledged to tackle health inequalities through their "third-way" approach towards healthcare policies.In July 1999, the Department of Health (DoH) introduced significant policies like "Saving Lives: Our Healthier State" White Paper that supported decreasing health inequality. Alongside this, they also published "Reducing Health Inequalities: an action study," which highlighted policies related to promoting healthy communities via education;employment;housing;transport. Later that year, DoH released a report on crime prevention strategies and access to healthcare services. Meanwhile, Tony Blair launched the "Opportunity for all - Tackling poverty and social exclusion" initiative in 1999 with the goal of eradicating child poverty within two decades. This report acknowledged that welfare was not solely responsible for inequalities but other factors also contributed to it. The UK's public health strategy aims to reduce health disparities and improve overall health by encouraging collaboration among individuals, communities, and government as stated on where personal responsibility is emphasized as a means to live longer and healthier lives. Additionally, in the same year, DoH introduced 'Sure Start' program offering over 500 programs serving impoverished children under four years old by May 2003.These programs, which offer health services coupled with support for families and early education opportunities, aim to promote the physical, emotional, social, and cognitive development of young children and their families. The Government has implemented various initiatives like 'Education Action Zones' and 'Education Maintenance Allowance,' aimed at encouraging school attendance among low-income families and improving education for disadvantaged children. The ultimate goal is to reduce the number of impoverished children by

25% before 2004, halve child poverty by 2010, ultimately eliminating it completely by 2020. However, progress towards this target was only at two-fifths in 2001/2002. To address this issue, tax and benefit revisions were implemented for low-income families with children while policies were created to overcome employment barriers and reduce poverty through paid employment. The government invested ?5.2 billion in New Deal initiatives that aimed to promote employment among different groups such as young unemployed people who had been out of work for over six months or those over 25 who had been jobless for two years or more with an objective to increase long-term employability through short-term job opportunities.The introduction of the National minimum wage policy in April 1999 aimed to decrease in-work poverty and reliance on social security benefits. Reports such as the Black Report (1980), The Health Divide (1987), and The Acheson Report (1998) highlight health disparities related to socioeconomic factors, with official statistics identifying significant health inequities affecting various illnesses and diseases based on social classes. Both reports emphasize that improving children's circumstances is crucial for reducing health inequalities, as they are an investment in the future requiring proper care against such disparities. People's way of living and social status affect their well-being, indicating how lower socio-economic class individuals may find themselves stuck in a cycle where professions contributing to health disparities remain unchanged. Poor economic status affects one's health throughout their life; studies show that those at the bottom rung of society are twice as likely to fall ill than those at the top. To address these issues effectively, governments must tackle problems like unemployment, low wages, inadequate housing options,

and lack of opportunities. While educating people on healthier lifestyle choices is important, it may not be effective when these choices are unavailable readily.Taylor and Field observed that research and policy circles increasingly recognize socio-economic inequality within society as the primary cause of health inequalities.The aim of this article is to highlight the ongoing efforts and future plans by government officials and local authorities to reduce health disparities that persist throughout one's entire life. In today's society, health inequalities remain a significant factor in people's lives. Human beings require more than just material wealth for a fulfilling life; fundamental needs such as love, appreciation, social status, and community involvement are also necessary for well-being. The lack of these components may result in physical health problems, unhappiness, and an increased susceptibility to depression and anxiety. Wilkinson and Marmot (2003) argue that policies should focus on improving both material and social injustices not only to enhance health but also address other associated socioeconomic issues.

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