Health inequalities and their causes 

Health inequalities are the unjust and avoidable differences in people’s health across the population and between specific population groups. This website, and the report it is based on, describes trends in health inequalities, with a central focus on timing and causes of death and health and wellbeing outcomes, alongside health-related behaviours, and health and social care services. These are shown in the blue areas of the figure below.

The context of these trends is of utmost importance. Health inequalities are largely the result of inequalities in the social, economic, and environmental conditions people experience at birth and over their lifetime. These are represented in the yellow portion of the figure and include:

  • Housing
  • Income
  • Education
  • Environment
  • Employment
  • Public services

The drivers of health inequalities are the differences in individual experiences of these socio-economic and environmental factors, which are in turn shaped by wider economic, political, commercial, social and cultural forces and ultimately, the unequal distribution of income, power and resources. These are shown in the outer, orange ring.

The greatest impacts of health inequalities are felt by citizens and communities. However, there are also wider economic costs including loss of productivity, lost taxes, and increased welfare spending, as well as direct costs to the healthcare system.

Action on socio-economic inequalities across domains and especially on the distribution of money, power and resources, is most likely to reduce inequalities in health.