Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Governments Know Work and Living Conditions Can Kill Us -- It's Time to Act

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Governments Know Work and Living Conditions Can Kill Us -- It's Time to Act

Article excerpt

Governments know work and living conditions can kill us -- it's time to act

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This article was originally published on The Conversation, an independent and nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts. Disclosure information is available on the original site.

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Author: Dennis Raphael, Professor of Health Policy and Management, York University, Canada

Living and working conditions are the primary causes of good health, and disease and premature death as well.

This has been known in Canada since at least the mid-1850s and any visitor to the Public Health Agency of Canada's website will find ample documentation of this fact.

Indeed, a recent Statistics Canada report found that 40,000 Canadians a year die prematurely because their working and living conditions are not of the quality experienced by well-off Canadians. Gaps in income and wealth kill people.

These living and working conditions are shaped by public policies made by Canadian governments at all levels. These policies serve to distribute economic and social resources among the population.

This is why political scientist Harold Lasswell defines politics as: "Who gets what, when and how."

And the evidence is clear that over the last three decades, these public policies have widened income and wealth disparities among Canadians, led to stagnating incomes for 60 per cent of Canadians and created an explosive increase in insecure and precarious employment -- all of which contribute to disease and illness.

Most strikingly, Canadian children fall well behind most developed countries on numerous indices of health and well-being, according to UNICEF Canada.

Conditions in decline for most Canadians

Yet despite the strong link between living and working conditions and health and disease, evidence shows that the situation is not improving for most Canadians, and is in fact declining for many.

The issue of what we call the social determinants of health has not made it onto any public policy agenda at any level of government in Canada.

Not surprisingly, most Canadians mistakenly believe achieving good health and avoiding disease and premature death is about refraining from tobacco and excessive alcohol use, exercising and eating more fruits and vegetables.

But the fallacy of that belief, and the role governments play in perpetuating it, has been demonstrated over and over again in numerous studies in Canada and elsewhere.

Why are politicians unwilling to go near the social determinants of health and disease, and their complicity?

Is it because they believe we're incapable of understanding the connection? That wouldn't be unreasonable given we're bombarded with messages from government, disease associations and the media telling us relentlessly that all we need for good health is to live a so-called healthy lifestyle. …

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