Thursday, November 26, 1998 Published at 13:09 GMT
Radical anti-poverty plan wins applause
The Acheson reports suggests radical measures to tackle the poverty gap
Anti-poverty groups and health workers have welcomed calls for a radical overhaul of the way government tackles the massive health gap between the richest and poorest of society.
The Child Poverty Action Group said the government-commissioned report by Sir Donald Acheson, was "a wake-up call for the government and all politicians".
It demanded urgent government action to implement its recommendations, including a call for benefits to be increased.
"It is a scandal that health inequalities exist on the scale identified," it said.
"The government has taken welcome first steps to reduce poverty, but much more needs to be done. On current policies, child poverty and inequality will not be significantly reduced."
It called for an immediate £5 increase in benefits for children, a target to halve the number of children living in poverty by 2002, a reversal of recent cuts to single parent benefits, an independent annual poverty report and an increase in benefits for families with children to bring them in line with minimum income standards.
The British Medical Association (BMA) also backed and said it mirrored its own policy.
Dr James Appleyard, chairman of the BMA working party on child health, said:"The government deserves credit for asking Sir Donald Acheson to report on health inequalities.
"It must have known that a radical agenda to tackle poverty was the only logical outcome of such a review."
He added that, as a paediatrician, he strongly endorsed the stress on tackling maternal and child poverty - one of the main planks of the report.
"The effects of deprivation in infancy and early childhood last a lifetime - often a shortened lifetime marred by illness and disadvantage," he said.
He added that the report provided a counterweight to government attempts "to push the parents of young children back into the workplace".
The report recommends greater benefits in cash and in kind for women with young children.
Dr Appleyard, who is preparing a BMA report on child health for publication in 1999, also welcomed calls for a greater role for health visitors in family care, programmes for promoting breastfeeding and more equity of access to social and health care for the elderly.
The BMA singled out some of the recommendations from the report, including support for pre-school education, strategies for preventing accidents and suicide and recognition of the special needs of ethnic minorities.
Professor George Alberti, president of the Royal College of Physicians, also welcomed the report, calling it a "thoughtful, comprehensive and humane document" which update the 1980 Black report on health inequalities.
He said it showed there was "no place to hide and no excuse" for not tackling the gap between rich and poor and suggested real opportunities for the government and agencies to work on a holistic approach to health.
Health workers union Unison also backed the report, particularly the call for higher benefits for mothers, families with children and the elderly.
General secretary Rodney Bickerstaffe said the report was "authoritative and far-reaching".
He called for an increase in the proposed national minimum wage.
However, Dr Peter Brand, the Liberal Democrats health spokesman, said the report showed the government was not taking health inequalities seriously enough.
He accused the Department of Health of being "obsessed with acute medicine" to the exclusion of public health.
"Health is much more than treating disease," he said.
And he said there was nothing in the Queen's speech which showed the government was doing anything to address the report's concerns.
The Institute of Health Services Management also expressed concerns about whether the report's recommendations would be fully implemented, saying managers already had a packed agenda.
It said substantial additional funds would be necessary to extend existing anti-poverty initiatives as suggested in the report.
And the King's Fund charity said the proposals would have to be properly coordinated, with a clear chain of accountability for joint programmes being set out.
It has just published a guide on how to target action plans locally.
It says an area's priorities should be set by all the relevant agencies with the active participation of local people.