From poverty to climate change - we want to 'shift the dial' on health inequalities

Last year we launched our #ShiftTheDial campaign with a focus on poverty. Dr Helen Stewart, RCPCH Officer for Health Improvement reflects on the past year and looks forward to our second phase of the programme launching next week.
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Autumn 2022 marked the launch of our health inequalities programme. This was designed to deliver on our aim to shape policy around child health inequalities and enhance the expertise of paediatricians to effectively support children and families impacted by poverty.

We created a position statement, which underscored the importance of addressing child poverty as a crucial step in reducing health inequalities and offered policy recommendations to UK governments. We also developed a toolkit to equip and upskill paediatricians to support families affected by poverty. And, we launched a campaign across all four UK nations encouraging paediatricians to sign an open letter urging political leaders to act on poverty and health inequalities, which amassed over 1,000 signatures. The programme incorporated the voices of children and young people through the "Everyone Deserves the World" letter and showcased case studies to demonstrate how teams are addressing child health inequalities in their local areas.

Across the UK, our work to encourage Government to act has continued. And while there have undoubtedly been challenges there is clear evidence that our calls and your voice is making a difference.

First, the challenges: We are disappointed that, despite collecting more than a thousand signatures, the UK Government decided not to publish the long-promised Health Inequalities White Paper. Thankfully that has been superseded by the Major Conditions Strategy which will consider inequalities in health outcomes by ethnicity, deprivation, gender and the wider determinants of health.

In Scotland, we called on the Scottish Government to double the Scottish Child Payment Bridging Payments. These payments were introduced to bridge the gap for families most affected by the cost-of-living crisis with children aged 6 to 15 ahead of the full roll out of the Scottish Child Payment. RCPCH Scotland was pleased when the First Minister made the commitment to double the final Bridging Payment, due in December 2022, from £130 to £260. This is something we continually called for through our work on health inequalities and via an open letter to the First Minister co-ordinated by the End Child Poverty coalition.

We remain dedicated to improving child health equity.

In 2023, we started planning for the second phase of this work where our focus shifted to the intersection of climate change and health inequalities. We are acutely aware that climate change poses a threat to the health and wellbeing of children and young people; however, it is not experienced equally. So the new phase focuses on how climate change compounds child health inequalities in a myriad of ways, including environmental exposure and capacity to adapt, food insecurity and the effects of the climate crisis on mental health.

Along with our review of the evidence, we developed policy recommendations - available from next Tuesday 17 October - aimed at influencing UK governments to make commitments around climate change that do not exacerbate child health inequalities. This programme will also include a campaign action encouraging paediatricians to invite MPs to a roundtable discussion about these pressing issues.

The second phase of this programme will continue to call on political leaders to take action on poverty and health inequalities while placing a heightened emphasis on addressing the unequal impact of climate change. We remain dedicated to improving child health equity. By addressing the intersection of climate change and health inequalities, we are not just safeguarding the health of children and young people but also creating a more equitable and sustainable world for future generations.

Look out next Tuesday for resources and actions for this second phase in this website's Key topics section or on our social media platforms at #ShiftTheDial.