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Influence of Social Inequalities on Life Chances and Health

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 2664 words Published: 8th Sep 2017

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2.1 Use data to explain inequalities which exist in health and social care

Social Inequality is the existence of unequal opportunities and rewards for different social positions or statuses within a group or society (Moffitt, 2015).

The distribution of social and healthcare is determined by a wide variety of factors which include individual factors as age, sex, social and national factors. There is growing evidence of inequalities in both the distribution and access to health and social care.

In 2016, the equality trust organization in the United Kingdom (UK) reports that, compared with other developed countries, the UK has a very high level of income inequality. They explained that Households in the bottom 10% of the population have on average a net annual income of £9277 whereas the top 10% have a net annual income over ten times what is earned by the bottom 10%. The implication for this is that the people who fall within the bottom 10% of the population will not be able to access quality health care while at the same time maintaining a “good” standard of living. It can be said arguably that more than 50% of the incomes of these people are spent on housing. In Great Britain, wealth is even more unequally divided than income. 45% of all wealth is held by the richest 10% and the poorest 50% by contrast own just 8.7% (Equalitytrust.org.uk, 2016).

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Society’s categorization contributes to the difference in life expectancy in different regions. Office for National Statistics (ONS) reports that over a two year span from 2012 to 2014, life expectancy in Kensington and Chelsea was highest in the UK and Blackpool had the lowest life expectancy (74.7) for new born babies. This can be attributed to society’s constructs, for example, people in Chelsea and Kensington are classified as rich and therefore have a high standard of living than people in Blackpool who are classified as poor. That means people in the rich communities of Kensington and Chelsea may have longer life expectancy because they can afford better social services than those in Blackpool. Most of the people in these rich communities are gainfully employed and earn much more income even for the same service of job than those in the poor communities. Further to this, a report on Blackpool in 1990 suggests that it is not really social class but the age structure and patterns of employment of people in the lowest social classes that really explain the differences. Overall, life expectancy has steadily increased in the UK but some communities have higher life expectancy than others (www.ons.gov.uk, 2016). However this gap in the life expectancy can be narrowed with evenly distribution and access to health and social care in the society.

One of the ways through which inequality in the distribution of health can be measured is morbidity and mortality. ONS reports that cancer was the cause of about 28% deaths that occurred in 2015 and 26% in circulatory diseases. Again, it can arguably be concluded that, people in the high social class bracket are more exposed to such circulatory disease whereas people in the low class bracket die of preventable diseases. In our traditional society, people in the lowest social class have a higher proportion of older people working in more dangerous industries so they are likely to have higher levels of illness than those engage in less dangerous work. The fact that education is a strong predictor of infant and maternal mortality, adult morbidity and mortality and a range of life course developmental and health outcomes is well supported by research evidence (Bartley, 2007).

2.2 Social inequalities from sociological perspective

Sociologists study health and illness not only because they go to issues at the center of human existence but because they help us understand how society works (White, 2009). To the sociologist point of view, the experience of sickness and disease is an outcome of how society works. For example, poor living conditions in some parts of Liverpool can be attributed to the cause of diseases and high mortality. In addition, poor housing environment, smoking, drugs, unhealthy eating, obesity, lack of exercise to lose weight all contribute to poor living conditions. Even when living conditions are improved and medical practices also improved but inequalities based on class, gender and ethnicity are not tackled, the difference between the rich and poor will persist and widen.

Diseases and inequality are often linked. The outcome of the uneven distribution of political, social and economic resources necessary for a healthy life is the social gradient of health. Those at the top of the social system are healthier and live longer while those at the bottom are sicker and do often die from preventable diseases and accidents. It is assumed that health differences are biological. For example, in Liverpool, a household will be smoking since generation and this contribute to unhealthy life styles and death.

Inequalities in health are not only common between people of different socio-economic groups but they can exist between different genders, different ethnic groups, and the elderly. We need to also consider the inter-generational causes of health inequalities. In this instance, inequalities in health are passed from generations. This is not only to do with genetic factors, but the mothers’ health behaviours during pregnancy and circumstances and behaviour as they raise their children (Barker, 1992).

Sociologically, social inequality as a social problem encompasses three dimensions, namely, ideological supports, social reforms and structural condition. Structural conditions include things that contribute to social inequality and can be measured objectively, for example, wealth, poverty, education. Ideological supports are the ideas and assumptions that support social inequality present in a society e.g. formal laws and public policies. Social reforms includes things such as social movements, organized resistance and protest groups. Marxism which views society as conflictual and exploitative holds that inequality in health arise because people value higher profits than health. Marx believed that social class was based on economic factors.

The Functionalist theorists believe that inequality is inevitable but desirable and plays an important function in society. As such, a level of inequality is acceptable in society. Important positions in society require more training and thus should receive more rewards such as high pay or status to attract the most talented people. Social stratification and social inequality, according to this view, lead to a meritocracy based on ability. They see modern societies such as UK as meritocratic, to a large extent. By this status is achieved and based on individual ability, occupational positions are allocated. Many sociologists have used the Registrar General’s scale of working class and middle class in the past, in order to measure social class.

Conflict theorists, on the other hand, view inequality as a result of groups with power dominating groups with less power. They believe that social inequality hinders societal progress as people in order to maintain the status quo those in power repress the powerless. In today’s world, domination is achieved primarily through the power of ideology i.e. our beliefs, views, thoughts, norms, values, world views and expectations through a process known as cultural hegemony.

2.3 How inequalities which exist in health and social care can impact on an individual’s health status and life chances.

Social inequalities that exist in health and social care impact on the individual’s health and life chances. These impacts may be seen as advantage for some group of people but negative for others. The privilege ones who find themselves at the better side of the inequality will be well off than the others. Health is determined by several factors including genetic inheritance, personal behaviors, access to quality health care, and general external environment.

The inequalities that exist in health can be measured in terms of inequalities in conditions such as wealth and material goods. The inequality in income affects the access to social care and health. Those with high incomes are better off and can afford to pay for extra services besides the basic ones guaranteed to all by the government. The difference this makes is that, the individual who may be able to afford these extra services is less likely to die from preventable diseases. The individual with low income may enjoy only basic social and health care which may not cover the needs at the moment. The end result of this individual is shorter life expectancy. The inability to afford better housing services and live in “better” communities exposes the individual to a high morbidity.

One aspect of society that is gaining attention in today’s society is the discrimination in gender. On Friday, 9th December, 2016, a panelist on ITV news discussion comment toys meant for boys and girls and identifying colours with gender at an early age. According to the discussion, the stereotyping isn’t healthy for a society and efforts must be made to reduce and eventually erase the ideology in the minds of children at early age. They are advocating retailers to stop categorizing toys by gender. Like the functionalist theory holds, this form of stereotyping is inevitable thus it can only be reduced and not erased. Gender inequality can still be found also in the workplace today despite equality laws such as the Sex Discrimination Act. Divisions based on gender can be seen in the gender pay gap and under-representation of women in politics. However, the numbers of females going into higher education and entering professional careers such as medicine amongst others is increasing.

A person’s career and aspirations may not be achieved due to inequality in social care and health. For instance where, the inequality in health is attributed to a genetic issue. The individual may be limited by society in certain endeavours. By reason of a person’s impairment, the individual faces stereotyping in the community even in schools. However, this notion is gradually fading out in the UK as efforts are being made to bridge the gap between people of learning ages for example in schools, and visually impaired are provided with brails and learning aids to foster learning.

In contemporary Britain, some sociologists, however, see inequality based on ethnicity as the most important cause of social division. For example, members of some minority ethnic groups underperform at school and experience higher levels of unemployment compared with other groups. Women, older people and children are at more risk of poverty than other groups. Other sociologists also argue that inequalities based on gender, ethnicity, class and age are all significant in today’s society, and therefore, they are seen as interlinked aspects of inequalities rather than as completely separate aspects.

People of African Caribbean background are more likely to be in occupations that are classified as working class. This impact on their chances of upward social mobility. This may also have consequences for their children’s life chances including educational opportunities.

Many sociologists argue that social class remains an important concept because social class still impacts on people’s daily lives. Class-based inequalities in life chances persist in the 21st century. So, while class may have changed, it has not declined.

Over the last 40 years, reforms in such areas as education and employment have addressed different aspects of gender inequality. For example, introduction of anti-discrimination laws such as the Equal Pay Act (1970) by government to reduce gender inequalities. Other reforms and policies have been made to address inequality based on ethnicity in areas such as education, employment, and criminal justice. Through funding bodies such as the Equality and Human Rights Commission which enforces equality laws governments have tried to reduce inequalities between different ethnic groups as well as through legislature such as the Race Relations Act in the 1970s.

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In conclusion, although there has been a reduction in social inequalities in our society, there exists however, a gradient between people from affluent backgrounds and individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds. For a fact, a country where wealth is evenly distributed, these kinds of issues of social inequalities are at minimum. But until the UK gets to a level of even wealth distribution, efforts and continued vigilance will be required by all to help curb the problem.


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