Jody Heymann tells senators social equality leads to better health


Dr. Jody Heymann, Director of the McGill Institute for Health and Social Policy, adjunct professor at Harvard University and internationally respected voice on the connections among government policy, working conditions and public health, testified before the Canadian Senate Sub-Committee on Population Health in Ottawa on March 28.

Both an MD and a PhD in public policy, Dr. Heymann told the Committee, “Poverty and inequality remain an obstacle to good health for millions of Canadians,” adding that, “In Canada, it has been estimated that the majority of the variation in life expectancy is due to socio-demographic factors. These social conditions range from education to employment, from living conditions to social networks.”

Dr. Heymann said there were only three real routes to lift families and individuals out of poverty: “Improve wages and working conditions, improve educational opportunities so people obtain better jobs, and transfer income. Of these, improving the quality of work and education are the only ones to lead to long term sustainable change for most working age adults and their children.”

Out of 24 OECD countries, Canada ranks 15th for its rate of children living in low-income households, Dr. Heymann pointed out. Moreover, although the average incomes of Canadians have increased during the past decade, the gap between the rich and the poor in Canada has continued to widen. “In Canada, adults from the highest income households were twice as likely (34%) to report being in excellent health compared with adults from the lowest income households (16%),” said Dr. Heymann. “Poverty also limits such necessary components to good health as safe housing, good nutrition, and access to medications.”

Author of the recent book Forgotten Families (Oxford UP, 2006), an epic international study of the impact of globalization on the health and economic well-being of working families, Dr. Heymann advised the senators that, “The best policies for governments to invest in are those that promote better work for adults and better educational opportunities for children and youth, thus addressing poverty for multiple generations simultaneously.”

Dr. Heymann, who founded the Project on Global Working Families at Harvard, arrived at McGill in 2005 as Canada Research Chair in Global Health and Social Policy and founder of the McGill Institute for Health and Social Policy. The IHSP was established to conduct and translate global, social, and economic research into policies to improve the health and well-being of the world’s worst off. Among its current research projects are an examination of public policies in 180 countries on working conditions, education, and addressing inequalities and a multiyear implementation of case studies of the most effective national, provincial and local policies aimed at improving working conditions, expanding educational opportunities and decreasing poverty and inequality.

On February 13, Dr. Heymann testified before the United States Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions on proposed paid sick leave legislation.

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Stephanie Coen
McGill Institute for Health and Social Policy
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