Income Inequalities and Health

by Errol Black

Every once in a while, Jeffrey Simpson writes a column on growing income inequalities in Canada. I have criticized some of his previous comments on the grounds that he has dodged the relevant issues. However, a recent column in The Globe and Mail gets him a little closer to where the bone is buried.

In this column, Simpson responds to a report on childhood obesity presented to Ontario Premier, Dalton McGuinty.  Simpson reviews much of the work done on obesity and related issues since 1974, ranging from a report from federal health minister Marc Lalonde titled, “A New Perspective on the Health of Canadians”, to recent work by the OECD, which concludes that most interventions aimed at reversing the trend in obesity “were shown to have only a limited impact on the overall scale of the obesity problem.”

Simpson concludes his column with a bold declaration, and a bold challenge: “The core reason for poor health habits is overwhelmingly linked to income.  The poorer you are, the poorer your health.  Deal with income inequalities and the population will be healthier.  Appoint another panel, and nothing will happen.”

The link between poor health and income inequalities has, of course, been confirmed many times over in various scientific studies. That alone is good reason to take action to reduce income inequalities.

There are many other reasons. The growth in income inequalities adversely affects all aspects of life in Canada. We can no longer afford the social, human and economic costs of maintaining government policies that are designed to concentrate income and wealth at the top of the income distribution. A good place to begin reversing income inequality is through taxes – increasing the progressiveness of the income tax structure and establishing inheritance taxes.

When the OECD suggested that Canada do this, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, a believer in the efficacy of “trickle-down economics”, dismissed the idea. It is clear that movement toward progressive taxation reform will need to come from the opposition parties in Ottawa and from provincial governments prepared to lead the way on tax reform that will reduce inequalities in their jurisdictions.

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