Skip to main content

A review of international evidence and country experiences has found evidence that multi-sectoral policies may reduce health inequities

Published: 28 September 2023

The International Horizon Scanning and Learning Report 46: Five Essential Conditions for Health Equity examined determinants of health inequity and highlighted five policy areas where action could be taken to reduce inequity. 

The report found in all countries there are wide disparities in the health status of different social groups, with the general trend showing the lower an individual’s socioeconomic position, the more likely they are to experience and be at risk of poor health. These inequities have significant social and economic costs, both to individuals and societies. The overall picture shows policies that distribute more resources to areas with greater health, social and economic needs have a positive impact on reducing health gaps between social groups and geographical areas. 

Jo Peden, Consultant in Public Health for Policy, Research and International Development said: “Inequalities in health are avoidable, unfair and systematic differences in health between groups of people. How healthy you are is determined by many factors but the conditions and environment in which you live plays an important role. Often individuals do not have direct control over these determinants of health. Therefore, policies and approaches to address health equity should address all the social determinants of health and require action at a system level.” 

The report introduces five broad multi-sectoral policy areas published by the World Health Organization (WHO) European Office for Investment for Health and Development in its Health Equity Status Report initiative (HESRi) to address complex and persistent health gaps. These are:  

  1. Health services – Policies that aim to ensure availability, accessibility, affordability and quality of health services and interventions.  

  1. Income security and social protection – Policies that aim to provide economic security and support to reduce the health and social consequences of poverty or low income.  

  1. Living conditions – Policies that aim to ensure access to environments that have a positive influence on people’s health.  

  1. Social and human capital – Policies that aim to strengthen social relations and community assets including education, skills, community resources and meaningful social interactions.  

  1. Employment and working conditions – Policies that aim to improve the health impact of employment, working conditions and workplace equality.  

For each essential condition, the report also provides international examples of best practice and effective system-level policies to address health equity.