Health inequalities are the unfair and avoidable differences in health across the population, and between different groups within society. Health inequalities arise because of the conditions in which we are born, grow, live, work and age and the associated social inequalities – the lower a person’s social position, the worse their health.

Traditionally, policies have focused resources only on some segments of society, which has sometimes widened the health inequality gap. To improve health for all of us and to reduce unfair and unjust inequalities in health, action is needed across the social gradient. Universal action is needed to reduce the steepness of the social gradient of health inequalities, but with a scale and intensity that is proportionate to the level of disadvantage. This approach has been termed ‘Proportionate Universalism’.

Central to the Review is the recognition that disadvantage starts before birth and accumulates throughout life. This is reflected in the 6 policy objectives and to the highest priority being given to the first objective:

  1. Giving every child the best start in life
  2. Enabling all children, young people and adults to maximize their capabilities and have control over their lives
  3. Creating fair employment and good work for all
  4. Ensuring a healthy standard of living for all
  5. Creating and developing sustainable places and communities
  6. Strengthening the role and impact of ill-health prevention.

Published February 2010