Ignoring research [mortality rates]

winnipegfreepress.com – opinion/letterstotheeditor
01/10/2013.   Sid Frankel

The Economist does a good job in arguing that the gap in premature mortality between the rich and poor results in unfairness for the poor when retirement benefits are delayed or tax expenditures to support retirement saving are provided (Longevity gap hard to close, January 4).

But their explanations for the gap ignore significant research findings and put too much emphasis on the lifestyle choices of the poor, and their policy prescriptions are far too limited.

Why not act directly to decrease the premature mortality gap by decreasing socio-economic inequality through more progressive taxation, enlightened labour market policy and poverty reduction policy? The Economist does mention correctly that some harmful practices may be a result of the stress of poverty. But they do not even acknowledge the fact that fewer resources limit the opportunity to engage in health promoting practices. Neither do they mention the direct material effects of poverty, including less adequate shelter and nutrition.

The Economist thinks that the transition from a manufacturing to a service economy has eliminated workplace environments as a cause of the premature mortality gap, but the evidence shows that many workplaces offer little control, status, support or developmental opportunities to the worker. These factors have been shown to have negative health effects.

Public policies that decrease resources to the poor (Manitoba welfare rates are below 1992 levels of purchasing power) and discrimination and social exclusion of the poor also play a role. So, let’s not join The Economist in blaming the culture and choices of the poor for their premature mortality. It’s just not that simple.

Sid Frankel
Faculty of Social Work
University of Manitoba

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