The Centre for Research Excellence in the Social Determinants of Health Equity aims to:
- understand how government policies can work more effectively to address the social determinants of health, so as to improve health and reduce health inequities
- increase understanding of the use of evidence in policy under conditions of multiple policy agendas and differences in power among groups
- build research capacity and undertake knowledge exchange so as to inform policy, generate political priority for health equity and improve the health of Australia’s most disadvantaged peoples.
Although evidence shows the power of policy interventions that target the social determinants indeed improve health, translation of this evidence into policy has been slow.
We believe this is because a focus on social determinants and health inequities raises many political and policy challenges which occur throughout the policy cycle – getting an issue onto the agenda, formulating, implementing and evaluating policy.
For example, addressing the social determinants requires buy-in from a range of groups, including politicians, policymakers, communities and business. Sometimes these groups can have different and even conflicting objectives and some will have more power than others to influence policy.
The existing evidence base does not address these challenges. It is largely at the technical level, focused on the ‘facts’ of health inequities rather than understanding the political and policy dimensions.
There is increasing concern from political leaders, policy-makers and the public about the growing gap in the financial, social and health status of Australia’s most advantaged and disadvantaged peoples.
The social, cultural and economic forces that shape people’s daily living conditions are called the ‘social determinants’ or the ‘causes of the causes’ of health.
When these determinants result in an unfair and avoidable distribution of health in society, for example between the rich and poor, between men and women, or between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, they are considered health inequities.
Many of these determinants and health inequities are affected by political and policy processes outside of the health sector. For example, education, employment, the built environment, access to healthful commodities (e.g. nutritious food), as well as health care all affect the distribution of health in society.
To achieve and maintain good health, people not only need sufficient financial resources and control over their lives, but also representation in the policy processes that affect their health.
Health inequities are such an important issue internationally that the World Health Organization established the Commission on the Social Determinants of Health to identify what could be done to improve global health.