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A labour of Sisyphus? Public policy and health inequalities research from the Black and Acheson Reports to the Marmot Review
  1. C Bambra1,
  2. K E Smith2,
  3. K Garthwaite1,
  4. K E Joyce1,
  5. D J Hunter1
  1. 1Wolfson Research Institute, Durham University, UK
  2. 2Department of Social & Policy Sciences, University of Bath, UK
  1. Correspondence to Clare Bambra, Wolfson Research Institute, Durham University, Queens Campus, Stockton on Tees TS17 6BH, UK; clare.bambra{at}


Objectives To explore similarities and differences in policy content and the political context of the three main English government reports on health inequalities: the Black Report (1980), the Acheson Enquiry (1998), and the Marmot Review (2010).

Methods Thematic policy and context analysis of the Black Report (1980), the Acheson Enquiry (1998), and the Marmot Review (2010) in terms of: (i) underpinning theoretical principles; (ii) policy recommendations; (iii) the political contexts in which each was released; and (iv) their actual or potential influence on research and policy.

Results There were great similarities and very few differences in terms of both the theoretical principles guiding the recommendations of these reports and the focus of the recommendations themselves. However, there were clear differences in terms of the political contexts of each report, as well as their subsequent impacts on research and policy.

Conclusion The paper calls into question the progress of health inequalities research, the use of evidence and of the links between research, politics and policy.

  • Health inequalities
  • evidence-based policy
  • social determinants
  • research
  • public health
  • health policy
  • political issues
  • social variations
  • evid based med SI

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  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; externally peer reviewed.