Eight hopes for a healthier life

20 December 2017

December is a good time to reflect on the year that’s drawing to a close and to look ahead, make plans, and consider our goals for the future.

We asked eight people from organisations working to create a healthier population what changes they would like to see over the coming year (or in the longer term) that will help to improve the population’s health. Here’s what they said:

Kieron Boyle, Chief Executive of Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity:

‘I would like to see a greater recognition that context matters. Sadly, in 2018, it will remain true that if you live in an urban and deprived area you are more likely to have poorer health and lower life expectancy. To tackle these inequalities, we must acknowledge the impact people’s environment has on their choices – creating both assets and risks for their health. We must begin to unpick what it is about context that matters so much and, in urban, diverse and deprived communities, understand the impact scarcity has on people’s decision making. As a place-based foundation focused on urban health, we can play an important role in driving this agenda with others over the coming years.’

Yannis Munro, Mental Health Advisor, The Prince’s Trust:

‘It’s vital to remember that there’s more to healthy living than looking after our physical health. Mental health is just as important, and we can all play a role in normalising conversations about it to ensure issues like depression, anxiety and low self-esteem don’t hold people back in life.

‘This is especially pertinent to the work we do at The Prince’s Trust. Many of the young people we support tell us they are struggling with a mental health issue. While our programmes help to instil the confidence and resilience they need to improve their wellbeing, it is crucial that we work together to ensure even more young people are supported in schools, during apprenticeships and in the workplace so they can reach their full potential.’

Joe Ferns, UK Knowledge and Portfolio Director, Big Lottery Fund:

‘Big Lottery Fund’s approach is all about putting people in the lead. This means giving people the chance to talk about what matters most to them in their communities as well as their priorities, ideas and solutions.

‘In the context of improving health, it’s even more important that people with direct experience have a voice in shaping the services designed to support them. We’re keen to help develop a common language for civil society around the concepts of individual and community-level wellbeing and for this to be based on the experiences of people in communities.’

Gerry McLaughlin, Chief Executive, NHS Health Scotland:

‘Bold action focusing on communities with poorer health is creating a more supportive environment in Scotland. Tobacco products are now out of sight, the minimum price of alcohol will increase, and plans to reduce the country’s exposure to unhealthy food and drink are underway.

‘To harness the potential that structural reform brings, we also need to give people living with unequal health more power to make healthier choices. This relies on having more money, a better education and more influence to secure services needed to live well. Therefore, a continued focus on reducing health inequalities is vital if we want people to live longer healthier lives.’

Emma Stone, Director (Outcomes), Joseph Rowntree Foundation:

‘With , there is an urgent need for sustained effort on poverty. The links between poverty and population health are complex but also clear and compelling enough for us to call for stronger action. In the short-term, we want to see practical policy changes such as ending the current freeze on working-age benefits. In the longer term, we want a deeper shift in how businesses, investors and governments plan for economic growth,  adopting an ‘inclusive growth’ agenda. We also want to see a cultural shift in attitudes to poverty, challenging stigma, growing public understanding and demand for solutions,  because we believe that .’

Jo Casebourne, Chief Executive, Early Intervention Foundation:

‘We’ve all seen the headlines about the pressure on children’s mental health services. I am convinced that early intervention designed to prevent emergent problems from taking root has to be part of reducing this pressure on acute services. From our research, we know that social and emotional skills – including social awareness, self-management, resilience, relationship skills and responsible decision-making – are fundamental to children and young people’s mental health, wellbeing and future success, including their educational attainment. Any approach to preventing mental health problems needs to support children and young people to develop these essential life skills. EIF is working to increase what we know about ‘what works’ to build these skills, and this growing evidence base needs to be placed at the heart of a compulsory PSHE curriculum in all schools.’

Sam Royston, Director of Policy and Research, The Children’s Society:

‘Each year, The Children’s Society works with thousands of young people across England who face complex disadvantages that put both their immediate wellbeing and future life chances at risk. However, for too many children who need additional support, help is limited in childhood, and disappears altogether after they turn 18.

‘From failure to ensure that young people have a decent home when they first live independently, to letting them fall through the gaps between child and adult mental health services, and leaving those who are at risk of exploitation to cope on their own – lack of planning for how young people facing complex needs transition into independent adult life puts their long-term health and wellbeing at serious risk.

‘It must not be the case that young people who have faced disadvantage in childhood are altogether forgotten when they first make the difficult move into adulthood. Better support to enable an effective transition for this group would make a major difference to the long-term health of the most disadvantaged young people in Britain.’

Andrew Fraser, Chair of the Scottish Directors of Public Health, NHS Health Scotland:

‘People need, and should be entitled to, the fundamentals of a decent life – an adequate income, wealth sufficient to have a home with assured tenure, warmth, food on the table. Three further fundamental but less tangible ingredients are hope, resilience and a sense of control, or power and capability, to tackle the challenges of life. Without these needs, other matters are much less likely to fall into place.

‘Decent supportive public services that involve people in decisions about the services they provide; physical environments where people live, play and work; and a basic level of economic and social assets and facilities are vital components. ‘Good work’ is fulfilling, humane welfare is necessary for those who cannot work, or don’t earn enough and who need support.

‘These are what people need. If everyone had a good start to life, and a supportive environment and set of relationships throughout life, then we could look forward to much healthier and fairer lives in future.’

What changes would you like to see? Comment below with your hopes for a healthier life.

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