Cost-of-living crisis exacerbates existing health inequalities as people living in poverty and racially inferior groups are hit hard – Dr. Gwenetta Curry

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As the winter months begin in Scotland, temperatures begin to fall steadily while the cost of living rises.

These conditions exacerbate the health inequalities afflicting the most vulnerable populations across the country. According to the Office for National Statistics, the consumer price index rose 11.1 percent in the 12 months to October. The last time the number was higher was in October 1981, at 11.2 percent.

The rise in food and energy costs has had a major impact on everyone in the UK, with some families having to choose between food and heating their homes. Higher energy prices were thought to be the biggest driver of rising inflation, and the rate would have risen to 13.8 per cent had the UK government not imposed a cap on household electricity bills.

As with most things, certain communities have been and will continue to be disproportionately affected by the current crisis, which could ultimately lead to widening health inequalities. Previous research has linked poverty to an increased risk of poor health outcomes.

Thirty percent of adults aged 18-55 living in households in persistent poverty and 25 percent of those living in poverty said their health is far from good, compared with 15 percent of those not living in poverty . Poverty increases your risk of poor health due to lack of access to healthy food and the increased levels of stress you experience.

And overall, unpaid caregivers have to spend a larger portion of their income on energy costs to keep the person they care for warm and to control their condition, in addition to higher transportation costs and higher grocery bills due to the nutritional needs of the person they care for.

People forced to choose between heating and eating can suffer (Image: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Recent data has shown that nearly one in four families in which someone has a disability is in arrears with at least one bill or payment, and four percent are in arrears with three or more. People with disabilities are often forced to use more energy for medical reasons and charge life-saving medical devices. Increased energy costs will have a direct impact on the health and well-being of these populations.

While some measures are being taken to ease the economic burden of the crisis across the country, there remains an urgency to address existing health inequalities across the country. Providing adequate resources to prevent poor health outcomes should remain a top priority for policymakers.

dr Gwenetta Curry is Lecturer in Race, Ethnicity and Health at the University of Edinburgh

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