The idea of building assets is something that we typically associate with our financial well-being. But a new report from the Health Action Partnership International and the Government of Scotland highlights the connections between “health assets,” work, and health.
The report, Working for Equity in Health, argues that approaches to public health almost always focus on fixing a health deficit. This results in an approach that identifies problems such as individual health behaviours and a lack of health care services on one hand, and emphasizes “upstream” factors such as macro-economic and fiscal policies on the other. What is lacking in deficit models, however, is an understanding of the resources that build health and well-being at the individual and community level.
Working for Equity in Health proposes an “assets” model that builds upon the positive capabilities of people and communities. Health assets are:
Any resource that enhances the opportunities or abilities for individuals, communities, populations, and social systems to acquire, maintain, and sustain health and wellbeing. These assets can operate at the level of the individual, organization, or community and may be composed of the social capital and social networks of individuals and communities, experience, culture, intelligence, and traditions as well as labour market status.
- Focus on promoting health-giving resources that promote self-efficacy and coping strategies, and take a positive and inclusive approach to action on health;
- Build people’s resources and capacities to create health using resilience, well-being and social capital; and
- Help to develop opportunities that create and sustain health via psychological, social, and community resources and processes.
We’ve analyzed comprehensive community initiatives that bring together broad-based partnerships of local residents, service providers, community organizations, businesses and governments to coordinate services, share and leverage resources to build community capacity and infrastructure, and mobilize towards policy change to address the roots of poverty or other social problems in a way that is from – and for – the community.
So how do asset models link to work and health? Typically, having paid employment is associated with better health. This is logical: employment leads to higher income, which leads to better access to health care and greater access to the resources necessary to maintain health, like access to fresh and nutritious food and adequate housing.
However, not all jobs are of the same quality. Many jobs are precarious, poorly paid, have no benefits, offer little or no security, and are unsafe. This means that just having a job does not guarantee good health. As the report argues, it is not only being unemployed that causes poor health, but “the negative psychosocial attributes of insecure ‘bad’ work and employment are also health damaging.”
This is relevant to the work that the Wellesley Institute and others are doing on the review of social assistance in Ontario. In our submission to the Commission, we argued that the social assistance system should help people to get good jobs rather than just helping them to scrape by and that community capacities need to be built to ensure strong, vibrant, well-connected, and well-resourced communities. We’ll be expanding on these themes in our continuing work in this area.
The Wellesley Institute has also undertaken work that shows that racialized Canadians face barriers to good jobs and the resulting racialized income gap has a profound impact on the health and well-being. Our St. James Town Initiative shows that neighbourhoods influence health and well-being as well.