The role non-health charities play in impacting on peoples’ health

The role non-health charities play in impacting on peoples’ health
‘The tree of health’

A new report jointly produced by the Institute of Health Equity (IHE), the Health Foundation and New Philanthropy Capital (NPC) has highlighted the role charities, that are not primarily focused on health, play in addressing health inequalities through tackling their underlying social determinants.

Poor housing, unemployment, pollution and loneliness, are equally important influences on our health. Social, economic, and environmental factors, such as housing, work, family life and education are known as ‘social determinants of health’. Therefore, charities for example that are more focused on homelessness, education, employment opportunities and debt advice can have a significant impact on people’s health and wellbeing.

The report aims to support non-health charities to better understand and use the evidence about the social factors that impact on people’s health and well-being. Part 2 of the report includes the IHE Evidence Review which provides evidence on the impact of various social determinants on our health.

Widespread and consistent health inequalities are often determined by stark social and economic inequality. This is best demonstrated by the difference between the age an individual can lead a healthy life in a deprived part of Southwark compared to an affluent ward. Over half of what makes an individual healthy is influenced by social factors.

There has been a growing understanding of the importance of these social determinants over recent years.  This has manifested itself in the increased pace of integration and social prescribing. However, with the right information in the hands of the voluntary sector the authors feel that progress can be made more quickly. Many charities are making the link and are recognising that social factors can have a significant impact on achieving their own health related objectives.

Many non-health charities know that their work has an impact on people’s health but often their evidence is often anecdotal or piecemeal. The evidence is strongest for the negative impact of social factors but weaker for the positive impact of interventions. For many charities, measuring health outcomes is simply not an option or can be very challenging and in these cases it is preferable to use existing sources of good evidence.

The IHE Evidence views social determinants (good work, money and resources, housing, family, education and skills, our surroundings and friends and community) as roots of a “tree of health”. The evidence demonstrates the impact of social determinants on health and identifies clear system levers that can be utilised by the voluntary sector to highlight the need for action, to approach potential new partners, and to work collaboratively across sectors.

This evidence of the impact that non related health factors have on our health and wellbeing won’t come as a surprise to many in the voluntary sector. Those of you that are familiar with the Southwark and Lambeth Early Action Commission report will recall that it identified a range of problems (social determinants) that reduce people’s quality of life and generate needs for public services.  Examples identified by the two boroughs were childhood obesity, social isolation among older people, long-term unemployment and insecure employment, and violent crime:  these were seen to generate high demand for services and to be preventable.

Back in 2015 Community Southwark we asked the local VCS to write a paragraph which demonstrated their impact. We used a few of the examples to outline the rich detail of charity activity – then we undertook our own investigation to find out the associated numbers and demonstrate the true value of the sector’s work.  You can view the results here

This is of particular relevance in Southwark.  Right now the Council is conducting a borough-wide consultation called the “Southwark Conversation” to hear what local people think of the changes taking place in the area. Its important that local people participate in order to further shape the draft Social regeneration framework. The conversation runs through until Christmas.

In addition, the New Southwark Plan is being consulted on and many of the social determinants such as housing, surroundings and friends and community are all factors which will be impacted, on one way or another, with a likely knock on effect for the health and wellbeing of the local population. Representations on the Plan are being taken until 12th February 2018. We will be posting further articles on how best you can get involved in the most effective way.