UK epidemiologist Richard Wilkinson presented a compelling picture of why inequality is bad for everyone – rich and poor – during his recent Canadian tour. At today’s meeting of the Inner City Advisory Committee of the Toronto District School Board, we received a bracing insight into the impact of inequality on children attending public schools in some of the city’s poorest neighbourhoods.
The Model Schools for Inner Cities initiative (which targets children in the poor areas of Toronto) is screening kids for vision and hearing issues. Fully 29% of the children required vision referrals, and 79% of those needed glasses. Thanks to a corporate donor, they were able to get lenses. Fully 16% of the kids needed hearing referrals. We also heard the good news that when basic vision and hearing issues were addressed, students began to thrive in terms of their academic achievements.
Fully 26% of the children in Toronto’s public schools in poor neighbourhoods don’t have access to Canada’s public health care system – which means that they aren’t getting good primary health care. Lack of access to good basic health care means important health concerns are being neglected in children, and are almost certain to grow worse. And it means that when kids are sick, they may not be able to get the health care that they need.
The first pediatric clinic for inner city schools was opened in November at Sprucecourt School in downtown Toronto’s east end to provide primary health care for all students, including those without OHIP coverage. The Model Schools initiative is planning to open another six clinics across the rest of the city. Richard Wilkinson, and others, have demonstrated that inequality and inequity leads to poor health – and children in poor Toronto neighbourhoods are providing a sobering case study. The Inner City Advisory Committee plans to work with statisticians at the school board, academic experts and city officials to develop a much more robust picture of inequality and poor health among Toronto school children.