Individual risk factors like smoking and obesity are widely recognised to be major determinants of health. But there is increasing appreciation that wider determinants also matter.
With earnings providing the major source of income for households above the UK poverty line, entry into paid work has been central to tackling child poverty and social exclusion. The contribution that sustained employment can make to improving people’s lives and life chances in adulthood has also been recognised, where particular emphasis is put on enabling people with long-term health problems to secure appropriate employment.
Employment rates for both men and women have been on a strongly upward trend over the last decade. They are now are at their highest-ever level, with 75% of the working age population in paid work. While women are more likely than men to work part-time, the majority are in full-time work. However, employment rates among men and women with a disability or chronic illness are appreciably lower, pointing to the potential for improving work opportunities and promoting employment rights for disabled people.
While paid work can contribute positively to health by providing a route out of poverty, working conditions can also have negative effects on health. There is evidence that adverse working conditions, including shift work and work characterised by low levels of control, take a toll on physical and psychological health. Those in lower-skilled and lower-paid jobs are at greater risk of exposure to adverse working conditions, with studies suggesting that social gradients in the quality of work contribute to social gradients in health. This suggests that the workplace is an important intervention point for addressing social and health inequalities, for example through measures which enable shift workers to influence their working patterns.
Recognising the importance of the work environment, the Consortium includes projects with a focus on the labour market and the workplace.