Recently, the Wellesley Institute’s Bob Gardner and Steve Barnes made a presentation about advancing health, health equity, and opportunities for children in tough times to staff from the Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth.
Bob spoke about the pervasive and damaging health inequities that are rooted in underlying social determinants of health and strategies to address these inequities. A common link between health and child and youth services is that similar kinds of structural foundations shape unequal opportunities and lead to problems in other systems, such as education and justice. Bob identified lessons that can be shared across sectors to build action plans and argued that the sectors share the common ethical argument that the right to good health is a fundamental element of social justice.
Bob went on to argue that we know that young people who grow up in poverty or who face other barriers to good health accumulate a lifetime of health challenges. Addressing these underlying social determinants means building a healthier population and avoiding unnecessary costs in the health and other systems.
All of this means that we need to build equity into public policy. Steve spoke about the current policy environment that we face in Ontario, with the Drummond Report framing an era of austerity. Austerity makes our task of promoting progressive policy more difficult, but there are always opportunities available and we have to be vigilant about identifying them and acting. For example, the government has set a clear direction for health care reform. This provides us with a critical opportunity to work together to build equity into health care.