England was the first European country to pursue a systematic policy to reduce socio-economic inequalities in health. This paper assesses whether this strategy has worked, and what lessons can be learnt. A review of documents was conducted, as well as an analysis of entry-points chosen, specific policies chosen, implementation of these policies, changes in intermediate outcomes, and changes in final health outcomes. Despite some partial successes, the strategy failed to reach its own targets, that is, a 10% reduction in inequalities in life expectancy and infant mortality. This is due to the fact that it did not address the most relevant entry-points, did not use effective policies and was not delivered at a large enough scale for achieving populationwide impacts. Health inequalities can only be reduced substantially if governments have a democratic mandate to make the necessary policy changes, if demonstrably effective policies can be developed, and if these policies are implemented on the scale needed to reach the overall targets.
- Health policy
- public health epidemiology
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This paper is based on the 2010 Pemberton lecture, held at the annual scientific meeting of the Society for Social Medicine in Belfast, 6 September 2010.
Competing interests None.
Patient consent Obtained.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.