The pandemic has starkly exposed our economic system as one creating a ‘shielded wealthy’ and ‘exposed poor’. Economic policy over the last 10-15 years – in particular, austerity – has significantly increased health inequity, which has been amplified by systemic racism. This has directly contributed to conditions which see the impact of COVID-19 being disproportionately felt by low waged workers, migrants and precarious renters. Long-term economic systems change is needed, but there is also an urgent need for immediate change as growing millions are facing despair, destitution and decreased life expectancy due to economic conditions worsened by the pandemic.
The dominant practice in health still focuses on individual-based interventions rather than the structural interventions needed to address the root causes of ill health. As health workers, our work is as much about caring for those in immediate need as it is about advocating for and building new societal systems in which all are able to live well and thrive.
Medact will work to change this practice, first through local campaigns on issues which are immediately understandable to health workers in their daily working lives; then by scaling up this work and bringing the wider health movement to bear on long-term structural change.
What will the project try to achieve?
The housing system in the UK is broken. Currently, 1.6 million households are on social housing waiting lists and millions more are struggling to meet unaffordable rents in the private sector. From a public health perspective, an economic intervention on housing must not only address the poor conditions of housing but also the underlying structures they stem from: marketisation, ownership, lack of rights & protection, security, and unaffordability. It must also connect housing to income and employment, the wider built environment, and the breadth of economic and social relations that shape health inequalities. Medact will challenge the economic systems that shape the current housing crisis and build toward a fair and sustainable economy.
Medact will support the health community to campaign for economic interventions in the housing market that challenge these economic structures that produce precarity and with it, ill health.
Medact will mobilise health workers to organise alongside tenants and renters to better understand the role the housing system plays in generating and sustaining health and economic inequalities, Using a public health lens to bring housing, incomes, democracy, models of ownership, and the built environment into the frame. Building power through organising and campaigning; winning campaigns at local level and using these successes to drive systems and policy change at a national level. Medact will collaborate with other organisations working towards similar goals, especially where our combined expertise and experience can add weight to demands that address the root causes of unfair economic systems.
Medact will also platform this work at a national level, lobbying and influencing major public health bodies and associations to take public stances on economic policy to improve health and wellbeing, further legitimising the need for economic change on public health and medical grounds.
Finally, throughout this work, Medact will support health workers to engage with economics and economic policy, as well as to gain a more nuanced analysis of the power of organising to create political change, and to recognise this as a broader part of their professional roles – building a future where economic justice is understood to be integral to good health.
Who might be interested in this project?
Medact primarily organises with anyone that works in the health community – from healthcare workers, public health practitioners, all NHS staff, social workers, and anyone with a particular interest in health, housing, social determinants of health and inequalities. In this project, we are particularly looking to strengthen our relationships with housing organisations, community organisers, and connect with community groups working to challenge the underlying structure that underpinned economic and health inequalities.