Power equals health

Written by Elinor Dickie and Jill Muirie on 22 September 2017 in Comment

Associate feature: What does having power mean for our health, asks two prominent health inequalities researchers  

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‘Power’ includes the ability to do (or not do) something, and to exercise influence or control in a variety of different ways.  Evidence shows that those who have power to control their lives, and the environments in which they live, are likely to have better physical, mental and social well-being.

It goes without saying that some people have more power than others. Some individuals and groups have more opportunities to make informed decisions and use their power in ways that make them more likely to live longer, healthier, more fulfilled lives.

Health is improving in Scotland, but not for everyone. Those who live and grow up in poorer circumstances experience fewer years in good health and die earlier than people in more affluent areas. These health inequalities are influenced by the distribution of power, income and wealth.

Power affects many areas of our lives and the choices available to us, such as where we live or where our children go to school.  It also affects the amount of influence a person or a community has in getting their voice heard and this, in turn, affects the extent to which people have control over the things that happen to them.  

Having control over what happens to us, knowing that we have choices and being able to access appropriate services affects how we live, as well as our physical and mental wellbeing.    

Power is central to Scotland’s Community Empowerment Act. It is therefore really important that the people implementing the Act, and those who are intended to benefit from it, understand power and the role that they can play in helping to redistribute it more fairly.

That’s why NHS Health Scotland and the Glasgow Centre for Population Health (GCPH) produced a short animation; ‘Power – a health and social justice issue’. 

The film explains why power is important to health. It asks people in the public, and third sectors to consider how they can use their power to help increase the control that communities have over the decisions that affect them and to empower them to influence positive change as they see it.

Those of us who work for public bodies have a vital role in ensuring that communities’ views are at the heart of decision making.  This means ensuring the resources and opportunities we make available, particularly to disadvantaged groups, gives communities greater control.

If we want to live in a Scotland where everyone is heard, power has to be distributed more equally. 

In the 1990s, the Disability Rights Movement adopted the political slogan “nothing about us, without us”.  Whilst this slogan is not new, it bears repeating.   The legislative tools are in place.  It’s time to share power more equally, so that communities have a fairer share of the opportunities, resources and confidence to live longer, healthier lives.  A fairer, healthier future is possible, if we all play our part. 

To join in the conversation online, use the hashtags #power #healthinequalities. @NHS_HS @theGCPH

Elinor Dickie is Public Health Adviser with NHS Health Scotland , and Jill Muirie is Public Health Programme Manager at Glasgow Centre for Population Health

This article published in association with NHS Health Scotland

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