At this end of the calendar year, the Wellesley Institute takes this time for reflection to think back about the events of the past year and about the work we’ve done, and looks ahead to the events on the agenda for the coming year and what we hope to accomplish.
The Wellesley Institute ended 2010 with an event that had Richard Wilkinson speaking on how equal societies do better. A wide variety of social ills are caused not by absolute income disparities, he said, but by relative disparities between the top 20 percent of income earners and the bottom 20 percent. In case after case – whether in the areas of mental health, infant mortality, life expectancy, or elsewhere – overwhelming evidence demonstrates that people in more equal countries do far better than those in unequal countries.
On the local stage, David Hulchanski’s Three Cities Within Toronto report showed us the frightening statistics of the disappearing middle-class in Toronto: evidence of the increasing the gap between the rich and the poor right here at home.
Submissions to Ontario’s Social Assistance Review exposed the struggles of those in the province living in poverty, highlighting some of the costs of the growing gap.
A light went on in the collective consciousness of the international social policy community and beyond; people were finally beginning to talk about inequality in a way that brought the issue to newspapers and dinner tables across the globe.
For Wellesley Institute, this set the stage for 2011 as we focused on this important opportunity to talk about the health impacts that arise with with such gross disparities in income, not just between populations in the global south and global north, but also within populations.
In March, the Wellesley Institute released Canada’s Colour Coded Labour Market, a report which looked into the negative health impacts of Canada’s increasingly racialized work force.
In June, we launched Talking About Jobs, an initiative that addressed labour market inequities and the disappearance of “good jobs;” jobs that provide the means to raise a family, buy a home, and save for the future.
As the year wore on, increasing inequity within Toronto became the big story, as the municipal government embarked on an austerity-style approach to developing its 2012 budget. Residents, local organizations, service providers, and others, came together in an unprecedented way to challenge the government’s threats to cut or modify programs and services that help make Toronto a healthier and more livable city for all.
Affordable housing is one of the most important determinants of health and our Precarious Housing in Canada report sets out a path to better housing and better health. In 2011, we sounded the alarm about major cuts to federal housing investments and also about the plans to sell-off 700 plus affordable homes in Toronto.
In August, Occupy Wall Street protests forced the theme of inequality into the mainstream and quickly turned into a global movement. We participated in that conversation here in Toronto too, where the big conversation about inequity happening under the Occupy banner connected directly to what was happening at the city level. All kinds of necessary services that contribute to population health and a more equitable society, like libraries, housing supports, transit, parks, recreation, and school nutrition programs — were threatened.
At the Wellesley, we tackled the city budget issue by crunching the numbers; in Countdown to Zero we reported that city was dealing with a fabricated fiscal crisis and demonstrated that options still existed for balancing the city’s budget that did not require gutting the programs and services that contribute to a healthier city.
In October, the Wellesley Institute partnered with health sector leaders to submit Towards a Social Assistance System that Enables Health and Health Equity to the Commission for the Review of Social Assistance in Ontario.
The World Health Organization conference on the social determinants of health was a significant event in 2011 that led to discussion about health equity. This was particularly true of the Alternative Civil Society Declaration on Protecting the Right to Health through action on the Social Determinants of Health.
We will continue to contribute to this important conversation about inequity and the factors that impact population health in 2012. Wages, good jobs and good housing, robust social programming, access to health care are all factors that contribute to a healthy and equitable society. These elements improve the overall health of a population and are part of our program at Wellesley Institute for the new year.
In 2012, we will continue to contribute to solutions with our upcoming work on race and racism as a determinant of health; our work in St. James Town that looks at social capital; and our housing work, which maintains a strong front in the face of municipal, provincial, and federal governments that are set to slash funding to affordable housing programs.
Our ongoing work on the Wellesley Urban Health Model will help to show how, using a systems thinking approach, various interventions can improve overall population health. As we prepare to launch this model for popular use, we continue to explore how complex systems work and where interventions can be strategically made.
The Commission for the Review of Social Assistance in Ontario will be reporting back to the provincial government, and we will continue to engage to build an equitable social assistance system.
The recent announcement that federal health funding will continue to increase at 6 percent each year until 2017, after which they will be linked to economic growth and inflation, indicates that debate about federal funding for health will be an important issue on the agenda in the new year. Wellesley Institute will be working to ensure that the conversation is about more than just health care dollars – health equity must be built in.
The Wellesley Institute will also continue to push for a 2012 Toronto Budget that won’t increase inequity or negatively impact the health of Torontonians.
We look forward to the new year and to working with our partners and the broader community to bring about a healthier and more equitable future for all.
Have a safe and happy holiday.