Friday, 6 November 2015

Closing the Gap

Image result for donkey chasing carrot + images

A central plank of the country's health policy has for many years been the aim of 'closing the gap' between the poorer and better-off sections of society.

In Glasgow, for example, the fact that average life expectancy is as much 20 years longer in some parts of the city is often cited as powerful evidence of the need to concentrate more resources improving life chances in the areas with the greatest health inequalities. 

But to close this gap the people at the bottom have to start moving towards the top because if they don't, if everyone improves at the same rate, the relative size of the gap remains the same. 

Which is why the latest 'initiative' from the BMA is bonkers because it is not targeting extra resources where they are most needed; just like the decision to extend free school meals to all children public funds are spend where they are not needed - on relatively well-off middle class families whose children don't need the extra help.

In fact, I'm pretty sure that the middle classes benefit disproportionately from these policies and so, far from closing the gap, the effect of extending them to everyone is likely to make things worse.

Just like equal pay for women workers to catch up with their male colleagues, the women have to get paid more than the men until the gap is closed, on the basis of equal pay for work of equal value. 

In other words, the pay gap can never be closed if existing differentials are effectively maintained both within and between different occupational groups - and the same is true, of course, when it comes to health and education policy as well. 

Which is what the 1999 Single Status (Equal Pay) Agreement was all about, yet the Labour establishment in Scotland gave a much higher priority to the pay of school teachers (to the tune of £800 million a year) despite the fact that this group was, in relative terms, already much better off than their low paid council colleagues - carers, cooks, cleaners, classroom assistants, catering and clerical workers.

In public spending and policy terms the whole thing is mad, if you ask me, because the gap will always remain unattainable and out of reach until the donkey is able to catch up with the carrot.  

BMA Scotland calls for free fruit and vegetables in schools

By Eleanor Bradford

BBC Scotland

Image copyright- PA

Doctors leaders are calling for all primary school children to be given a free portion of fruit or vegetables every day.

The British Medical Association in Scotland makes the proposal in its manifesto for the Scottish Parliament elections in May next year.

It says the measure is important for children who are forming the habits of a lifetime.

The BMA represents around 16,000 doctors in Scotland.

School meals are now free for children in the first three years of primary education, but the BMA says its survey of local authorities suggests they have cut back on the amount of fruit and vegetables offered for free outside school meals.

Last year 16 out of Scotland's 32 councils provided free fruit and vegetables but by this year, this had fallen to just 11.

None of the councils provided fruit and veg to children above P3, and none provides it more than three days a week.

The BMA says the NHS is facing rising demand for its services and promoting healthy behaviour is essential to reduce demand.

'Healthier lives'

BMA Scotland council chairman Peter Bennie said: "Providing primary school pupils with free fruit or vegetables means that they are less likely to eat unhealthy snacks between meals and helps to build positive habits that can last throughout their lives.

"Investing in children's health in this way can help them to lead healthier lives and reduce the burden on the NHS in the long-term.

"It is concerning that several local authorities have actually scrapped the provision of free fruit and vegetables in schools in recent years.

"Action is needed to address this variation and ensure that primary school pupils in all parts of the country benefit equally from free fruit and vegetables."

In September the Scottish government-funded Scottish Health Survey suggested that children eat even fewer portions of fruit and vegetables than adults.

Scottish adults ate an average of 3.1 portions a day whereas children aged 2-15 ate an average of 2.8.

Only 14% of children were getting the recommended five portions a day.

The BMA says its survey of 2000 parents of school-aged children in the UK suggests that 8 out of 10 (79%) support the idea of free fruit and vegetables for all primary school children.