Open lecture on health inequalities in the UK: What can we learn from the failure of UK efforts to reduce health inequalities? – University of Copenhagen

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Open lecture on: What can we learn from the failure of UK efforts to reduce health inequalities?

by Katherine Smith

Monday 25 June 2018 at 10 to 11.30 AM in CSS 5.0.22


The links between socioeconomic deprivation and poor health have been extensively studied in the UK and, since 1997 there have been multiple efforts to develop evidence-informed policy solutions. This talk will explore why, despite explicit efforts to employ evidence in developing policy responses, the UK’s efforts to reduce health inequalities has remained limited. Drawing on over a hundred interviews with policymakers and researchers and others, the talk will argue that this limited success can be partly attributed to widely-held assumptions that public opinion is unsupportive of many of the policy responses to health inequalities that researchers support. It will reflect on how this assumption has triggered innovative attempts to engage the public in discussions about health inequalities and briefly consider some examples. Next, the talk will draw on the following three sources to explore public views on health inequalities and potential policy responses: (1) a meta-ethnography of qualitative research exploring lay understandings of health inequalities; (2) a series of citizens’ juries undertaken by the speaker in Glasgow, Liverpool and Manchester (undertaken in July 2016); and (3) a 2016 national survey, also undertaken by the speaker. Taken together, the results pose a significant challenge to current assumptions about both public understandings of the social determinants of health inequalities and public support for the kinds of policy responses that most researchers working in this field support. The talk will close by arguing that more deliberative, solution orientated public conversations about health inequalities are now required in the UK.

Short biographical statement:

Kat Smith is a Reader at the University of Edinburgh (and has been promoted to a Personal Chair from 1st August 2018). She currently serves as Director of Research for the School, Director of the Global Public Health Unit and Co-Director of SKAPE (the Centre for Science, Knowledge and Policy at Edinburgh). Over the past ten years Kat's main research focus has been exploring how different kinds of actors work to influence policies impacting on public health and health inequalities. Within this, her research has focused particularly on the construction, promotion, translation and policy impact of academic and other 'expert' knowledges.  More recently, Kat’s research has begun to focus on the intersection between public and expert debates around health inequalities. From January 2018, Kat has taken over as Co-Editor of the international journal Evidence & Policy.