Deprivation kills - it's official

A team of researchers last year concluded that there is a link between hospital admission rates for chronic diseases and high levels of material deprivation. At first sight, one cannot help but think how wonderfully Blair-right this new report is: it shows willing, looks good and rocks no boats.

The conclusion that poor living conditions lead to chronic health problems - in London, at least (or Darfur, for that matter) – whereas living somewhere nice tends to allay them, is hardly a surprise. Give swathes of the population a diet lacking a viable balance of proteins, fats and minerals and the ensuing long-term stresses of deprivation and they are unlikely effectively to resist bugs and mental health problems.

Bombard them, too, with images of plenty, fuelled by a culture of avarice and you can add a sense failure, envy, frustration and anger to the mix, producing a heady concoction of despair.

What sticks in the craw is the need for the researchers - in this case from Imperial College London - in the fledgling 21st Century to have to point it out in the first place.

Maybe revealing what is hidden in plain sight is how it felt to the artist who drew children pulling coal carts in the early 1800s or the photographer responsible for those grainy pictures of women, old before their time surrounded by children wide-eyed with hunger, in urban slums in early 1900s.

Those among the management consultant community who state the obvious for a fat fee would approve. After all, if some people are daft enough to lend their watches and pay others to tell them the time, then a second, equally clichéd aphorism springs to mind, courtesy of W C Fields – the one about never giving a sucker an even break. But I’d wager the tubby little comic actor never envisaged a whole country could be suckered – and for so long.

The study is a product of a culture of continual spin, box ticking and backside covering that has ensured the “haves” have far more and “have nots” have only what is left over. This, it could be argued, has always been so. But in this day and age? After ten years of a regime that promised so much by way of liberty, equality and fraternity and delivered…saturation CCTV coverage and dreadful overseas war-faring.

The study makes two main points. Firstly, admission rates for chronic diseases such as asthma and diabetes are linked to the level of material deprivation in the surrounding area. Secondly, this is not due to poor care by the GPs serving the deprived communities.

One imagines the hard-pressed, well-meaning doctors, redolent of A J Cronin’s The Citadel, working themselves to an early grave, dispensing potions and tender loving care in equal measure as their charges cough into bloody handkerchiefs. The doctor leading the research said that where a Primary Care Trust is in a deprived area, higher admission rates for chronic diseases “could be inevitable”. In other words, where people exist in a violent, dirty, stressful environment what do you expect? They are not called “sink” estates for nothing.

That such a statement could be made after almost a decade of the current administration is an indictment of New Labour and its egregious machinations. At least Mrs Thatcher bared her teeth before biting the heads off everyone who stood in her way.

The UK has become a society in which completing a risk assessment form matters more than ensuring safety on the ground. Tony’s legacy is a less green and increasingly unpleasant land, where a sound byte and a smile oozing sincerity from our elected guardians of Elysium masks a cynical duplicity.

Can we therefore be surprised that if an uncomfortably high number people in the UK who are deprived of a decent living environment get ill with chronic conditions and turn up at our hospitals for treatment?