TASC, an independent Irish think-tank, has produced a report that puts the reality of the detrimental impact of poverty, lack of education and class division on human health, in an Irish context. Eliminating Health Inequalities – A Matter of Life and Death, TASC 2011 points out, for example, that according to Census 2006, men living in the most affluent areas live 4.5 years longer than men living in the poorest areas.
There is a similar gap of 2.7 years in the case of women. The gap is even more definitive when it comes to work, with the most hard-pressed workers on average dying younger. There is a six-year lower life-expectancy according to the 2006 Census for unskilled male workers, than professional male workers. The life-expectancy gap between unskilled and professional female workers is 5.2 years.
The potential for good human health is never achieved in a class-divided society given the impact from before birth (low birth weight, which can be an indicator of poor health status, is significantly higher amongst low income groups), of all the inequality, disadvantage and hardship that working class people face. Within that, the poorest and most marginalised sections do worst – the suicide rate for Traveller men for example is horrifying – seven times that of the general population.
Increased social spending can be linked to improved health of the population – state investment in not only a quality public health service free at the point of delivery, but also excellent education, social support services, childcare, good jobs with decent pay and conditions. improves health. A $100 increase in social spending per person can result in a 1.19 percent drop in all-cause-mortality, and in fact the effect of a $100 increase in social spending proves to be seven times more important than a $100 increase in GDP.
Irish capitalism is historically weak, and given this it never managed to comprehensively fund and develop basic social, health and education services – the “social wage” of the working class in Ireland is historically poorer than our European counterparts.
Increases in the health budget in part of the 2000s only served to begin to overcome deep health cuts in the 1980s and was skewed by the fact that public health spending subsidises private, for-profit healthcare. This latter is shown by the fact that although nearly half of the population has private healthcare, insurance contributions only cover ten percent of all healthcare costs, as private healthcare is often provided through the public system (TASC). The deepening economic crisis and successive budgets of austerity have inevitably exacerbated health inequality illustrated in the 2006 Census.
The austerity agenda of the current government, of the EU / IMF and of the ruling elite in Europe, represents their unholy desire to destroy – destroy any semblance of social services, destroy jobs, destroy any hope for a decent life on behalf of working class people – in the name of the failed capitalist system and its attempt to restore profitability. The inordinately corrosive impact of mass unemployment and of this overall agenda is having on human health cannot be quantified. A struggle needs to be waged against all cuts, and for public ownership of wealth and resources that could be used for the benefit of society and human mental and physical wellbeing. Capitalism that enriches the few at the expense of the many – the robbery that is the bank bailouts is the apotheosis of this – has inequality and class division at its heart and is a hazard to human health.