SCOTS need to engage more with others in their communities in efforts to tackle health inequalities, a report says.
The Ministerial Task Force on Health Inequalities said that while life expectancy in Scotland has been increasingly steadily along with other countries, since the 1950s its position had worsened, leaving it bottom of the Western European league table.
Its report also said that while health in Scotland is improving and life expectancies are increasing, the rate of improvement is the same in both deprived and affluent areas, meaning relative inequalities remain.
The task force said health inequalities in Scotland could only be solved by tackling the root causes of inequality and taking the fight beyond the NHS.
One suggestion for doing this was a greater focus on the development of “social capital” – increasing the opportunities for people to engage with others in their community.
The report said that greater interaction between people generated a greater sense of community spirit.
Evidence suggests that higher levels of social capital are linked with better health, higher educational achievement, better employment outcomes and lower crime rates.
Social capital includes elements such as trust of those living around you, membership of local social groups and keeping in touch with friends and family.
Public Health Minister Michael Matheson said: “Scotland’s health is improving, with people living longer, healthier lives. But despite our best efforts, deeply ingrained health inequalities persist.
“The task force is clear that this problem cannot be solved with health solutions alone. Health inequalities are caused by entrenched problems of poverty, educational under-attainment, worklessness and poor mental wellbeing.”
The task force was set up in 2008 and has met every two years to examine what progress is being taken to reduce health inequalities.
Margaret Burns, chair of the NHS Health Scotland board, which has responsibility for reducing health inequalities, said: “The task force’s work and proposals are symbols of commitment by local and national government to act, with the NHS, to tackle health inequalities in the future.
“Action across government and all sectors will be necessary to support people to avoid the burden of preventable poor health, with its social and economic causes and consequences for this country.”