The first meeting of the Sheffield Fairness Commission heard evidence from leading academic Danny Dorling and enterprises that help people get healthier, and quizzed the speakers about the best ways to improve Sheffield’s health. The commission heard how lifestyle, employment, poverty and health are all related, and measures to improve health won’t work if the other issues don’t improve. GP’s, the NHS, and local health groups also submitted written evidence backing up the message. Members of the Sheffield Equality Group were there to present copies of The Spirit Level to the commission (see below!)
Professor Danny Dorling commented on the links between health and wealth, giving the example of child road traffic accidents that were far more common in less well off areas. The changes in house prices over the past twenty years indicate how inequality of income between areas has grown, leading to whole parts of the city being off limits to many Sheffielders as a place to live. A lot of the changes is due to migration across the city and from outside. Wealthy incomers from the south move into the well-heeled areas, incomers who have poor health get priority housing in poorer areas. Postcode has become a better indication of your social status than your job, partly because in wealthy areas people without good employment get supported by their family. One indication of this was that there is a half square mile in Sheffield where house prices are so high the people there aren’t earning enough to buy them – therefore the buying must be done by those with inherited wealth to spend.
Jack Czauderna, a former GP and Chair of Darnall Wellbeing and Guy Weston from SOAR health services outlined why they have been so successful in areas like Darnall, Parson’s Cross and Burngreave. SOAR offers a one-stop shop covering physical and mental health, debt advice, and employment support. Darnall Wellbeing has health trainers and health champions to offer support to people on changing lifestyle. Jack and Guy both spoke about how health is much more than what GPs provide, giving examples of a person with diabetes who benefited from changing their lifestyle completely so they could stop drinking; and a person with depression whose needs were really about getting a chance at employment. Jack and Guy called for more joined up services, more work to be done with families, and for funders like the Government to recognise the difficulty in turning people’s lives around. Government funders sometimes wanted to reward services for the number of people spoken to, but getting quick wins did not mean the services actually achieving anything. Working with people in real need, and their families, took four months to two years to get a good outcome. The benefits were difficult to measure, but the rewards so much greater than just addressing the easy cases.
All spoke about how their efforts to improve health could be submerged under the inequalities between those on high and low income. Danny Dorling was concerned that changes to working families tax credit would take money away from families across the city, potentially pushing nearly five thousand children in Sheffield towards poverty. Jack Czauderna offered a copy of the book The Spirit Level to any member of the commission who hadn’t read it. He insisted that it wasn’t just about trying to improve the health for the worst off in the city, stating that the issue is for everyone “we must also talk to the rich in Sheffield, because if we reduce the gap in incomes they will be better off too.”