Secretary of State for Health

In July 1997, the then Secretary of State for Health commissioned Sir Donald Acheson to review and summarise inequality in health in England and to identify and prioritise areas for development of policies to reduce them. His report, “Independent Inquiry into Inequalities in Health”, was published in 1998. His report recommended wide ranging changes in the way that health policies are made. His committee recommended policies to reduce poverty in families with children, by promoting material support for parents.

It recommended that high priority was to be given to improving health and reducing health inequalities for women of childbearing age, expectant mothers and young children. The evidence to increase the rates of breastfeeding for health reasons was also documented, recommending that there should be an increase in the prevalence of breastfeeding. The development of programmes to help pregnant women to reduce or give up smoking before or during their pregnancy due to the evidence that the lower social classes are four times more likely to smoke in pregnancy (Foster et al 1995 cited in Acheson 1998).

The report also revealed that in some areas inequalities in health have risen rather than declined. Towards the end of the last century it showed a continual link between poor health and social class (Alcock 2003). In the last two decades of the 20th century, children replaced old people as the group most likely to be in poverty in the UK (DWP 2005). The present Labour government announced in 1999 that it would end child poverty in a generation. It promises to half child poverty by 2010 and end it by 2020.

The results of this are already beginning to show with the child poverty rate falling steadily (Hirsch 2006). The Right Honorable John Hutton MP, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions stated in a speech before the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, on Thursday July 6th 2006 that child poverty is the principal cause of life chances. Children that are born into poverty are more likely to die prematurely and less likely to attend school regularly. Therefore they are less likely to attend college or further education which may force them into the worst jobs, or have no job at all.

They are more likely to be victims of crime and to offend themselves (Hirsch 2006). The report highlighted the important progress made in tackling child poverty and the scale faced in meeting the Governments goal of eliminating child poverty by 2020. Levels of children living in poverty in Wales has fallen since 2002. However 27% are still living in poverty (DWP 2005). Families in rural areas have limited access to many services and can feel very isolated. Children are particularly vulnerable to poverty as they are growing and developing in poor circumstances which affects their social behavior.

Tackling childhood disadvantage is particularly important because childhood experience lays the foundations for later life (Croke & Crowley 2006). The children in the scenario are growing up in a low-income household. Evidence shows that they are more likely than other children in the higher social classes to have poor health, to do badly at school, become teenage mothers or come into early contact with the police and to be unemployed as adults or to earn lower wages (Hirsch 2006).

These children are also more likely to be unable to enjoy the basic living standards such as adequate clothing and a balanced diet (Adelman et al 2000). Mary and her family will have an extra mouth to feed which in turn will mean extra money. Having the right trainers or fashionable clothes puts enormous pressure on children and this can often result in them “bunking off” school in the hope that they do not have to “conform” to their peers views. Alongside this children need decent health, housing and wider opportunities to develop.

Education is one of the most important childhood experiences that help to develop their future socio-economic level, health and criminal behaviour (Regan 2005). Research has shown that children from poorer areas are more likely to be exposed to damp housing and a diet deficient in nutrients (Bennett 1996). They are also more likely to be exposed to passive smoking and suffer from psychological stress from being in a home environment where money is short, space in the home limited and growing up in declining and depressing inner cities (Bennett 1996).

Research has also shown that children born into poor socio-economic families have a higher risk of low birth weight and obesity in later life. Children who live in overcrowded households with non-earning parents are more likely to suffer higher rates of mortality (Regan 2005). However, a report by the National Statistics Regional Trends found that over the last twenty years infant mortality has declined in all areas of the United Kingdom, Wales from 12. 6 to 4. 7 per 1,000 live births (National Statistics 2004 ).

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