We celebrated The Scandal of Our Times at Magalleria this week. It's a photo book, and the scandal refers to the inequalities in healthcare in the UK. We’re much healthier than we used to be, but levels of wellbeing and life expectancy in the population are unacceptably variable. The Scandal of Our Times is published by photographer Will Ruff and it’s named after the subtitle of Professor Danny Dorling’s book Unequal Health.
The elements of health inequality will be familiar to anyone who cares or thinks about society – north/south divide, income gap, postcode lottery and so on – so this project risks preaching to the converted or patronising its audience. Will Ruff’s book (now almost sold out) contrasts rather grim looking areas of Glasgow with beauty spots in the London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. On the surface this would appear a laboured comparison because we all (should) know rates of life expectancy can be poles apart for those living in affluent and deprived areas. But in a short talk Oli Williams (Dan Hill Fellowship in Health Equity Research Associate at NIHR CLAHRC West) used the images to tease out many of the underlying issues to show that fair and equitable healthcare provision is a complex challenge – too complex for a succession of government strategies that have settled for easy answers.
'...fair and equitable healthcare provision is a complex challenge – too complex for a succession of government strategies that have settled for easy answers.'
I worked in health communications for a number of years, including peripheral work around the Change4Life campaign, when the prevailing mantra was ‘self-management’. This was an optimistic view that the state’s health burden would be reduced if people would adopt more healthy lifestyles. This seems reasonable enough, but the achievements of individual responsibility are often constrained by socio-economic forces. Rather than treating everyone the same, policymakers should, as Oli states ‘recognise that making healthy choices just isn't a possibility for many people and that current health campaigns are failing these more vulnerable people.’ As I’ve already said this is a very complicated and wide-ranging problem that I could discuss over several pages of this blog without even scratching the surface. So I’ll just pull up here, and, by way of passing, mention that we sell a very impressive magazine called Broccoli and Brains that shows the way for progressive and attuned health messaging around the specific issue of obesity. I urge you to investigate it.
We’re focused almost solely on magazines at Magalleria but we sell a few books on art and photography that stray into our areas of interest. We attended ‘Equity is the Answer’, a letterpress protest exhibition organised by Oli at The Edge at Bath University in November 2016, and we wanted to provide a window for this sort of activity in Bath. The publication of Will’s excellent book provided the opportunity to do so, and we’re thrilled so many people came. Thank you all.