I ATTENDED the VHS (Voluntary Health Scotland) Annual Conference that focused this year on health inequalities, highlighting the findings of their Report, “Living in the Gap”

The conference was a meeting of the already converted – those who already understand the realities of life for the poorest, most disadvantaged people in our country and those who are already doing a great deal to improve people’s lives.

This audience of mainly voluntary sector health organisations and public sector staff working at community level across Scotland heard familiar statistics about poorer life expectancy in the poorest areas; about 22% of children in Scotland living in poverty; and about how poor housing leads to depression, anxiety and suicide.

The awful truth behind those statistics was brought to life by a short film made by COPE Scotland, where poor housing, unemployment, poverty, poor physical and mental health are leading to people living in misery and despair. You can view the video by clicking here

“Poor housing, unemployment, poverty, poor physical and mental health are leading to people living in misery and despair
  • Frances Simpson, Support in Mind Scotland CEO

So when an article appeared in the national press summarising Sir John Major’s lecture on “A nation at ease with itself” I felt there was a glimmer of hope – hope that this message that is so well understood by those of us who support people living in the margins, had perhaps made it through at last to the mainstream.

You can read a summary of the lecture by clicking here

Agree or disagree with Sir John Major’s politics, it is important and significant that such a prominent politician and public figure is raising this critical issue in the mainstream press – particularly a politician who is part of the party in the UK Government and a Government making decisions that are directly impacting on the poorest people in our country. 

The significant points for me from his lecture are those that highlight that poverty being not just about individual lifestyle choices, but about poor housing, poor environments and lack of education; and those that urge us to approach benefits not by focusing on those who cheat the system but those who are failed by the system.

Inequality is a fundamental scourge in our wealthy nation, but current Government policy around welfare seems based on a belief that the poor are responsible for their own misfortune. 

Therefore, for me, the points raised in the lecture matter because whether or not you agree with the solutions it offers up, it acknowledges that poverty, disadvantage and inequality impact on individuals, they are not problems that individuals create or can resolve.