New report explores the impact of businesses on health inequalities

In 2010 the Marmot Review was published, detailing the social and economic factors contributing to health inequalities and how we could address them. The Marmot Review 10 years on revealed in 2020 that improvements to life expectancy had stalled. Their latest report examines the role of business in health inequalities and how they can play their part in reducing them.

The Business of Health Equity: The Marmot Review for Industry, produced in partnership with Legal and General, looks at the impact businesses can have on the health of their employees, clients and customers, and the wider community.

The report finds that the social determinants of health remain key, such as access to good quality housing, access to skills learning and education, and access to affordable healthy food. Whilst previous interventions and models of working have focused primarily on the political and civil changes that can be made to improve health inequalities, this report lays out ways in which businesses can have a positive impact on the communities in which they operate.

The report draws on existing evidence of the impact of working conditions and workplace culture on health. It details, for example, the importance of job security, healthy working hours, employee representation, training, and paying the minimum income standard.

Good work, a level of control over our work and enough income to live healthily is key to reducing health inequalities. Campaigns like the real Living Wage have been pushing for action from businesses to improve wages for 20 years.

The IHE report also provides insight into the impacts of business practices and provides recommendations to link better practices to health equity.

For example, the report found “many companies, particularly those in the agricultural, extractive, construction, automotive and aerospace industries, produce health damaging pollution and significantly contribute to the climate and environmental crises.”

The recommendation makes clear that action taken by businesses to reduce their environmental impact must consider health equity or there is a risk that polluting sites are “simply moved into lower-income or otherwise disadvantaged neighbourhoods, worsening health inequality.”

The final focus of the report is the business impacts on the health of the wider community. It considers the natural environment, as well as working in partnership, and advocacy.

One recommendation made to improve their impact on local communities is for businesses to operate as anchor institutions. In community-led projects funded by People’s Health Trust to tackle health inequalities, anchor institutions such as universities, hospital trusts and councils have played an important role in supporting community change.

These anchor institutions tend to be large organisations that are deeply rooted in their communities. As large employers, they are well-placed to invest significantly in social enterprises and local businesses.

The report highlights the power of businesses to form partnerships, provide local jobs, advocate with communities, and share the use of land and property - and the importance of including health as a priority in their environment, social and governance (ESG) considerations.