Economic downturn's impact on health

MQT on 2013-09-11
Session date: 
September 11, 2013
Question By: 
Onkar Sahota
Labour Group
Asked Of: 
The Mayor


Given your role in addressing health inequalities across London, what impact do you expect to see on Londoners' health from the economic downturn?


Answer for Economic downturn's impact on health

Answer for Economic downturn's impact on health

Answered By: 
The Mayor

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Thanks, Onkar, very much. I am obviously familiar, broadly speaking, with what Sir Michael Marmot [Director of the International Institute for Society and Health] has said about health equalities and the economic impact of the downturn. I have seen what he said about suicides and potential suicides and there is some evidence that we have seen an increase in suicide rates. That is obviously very worrying.

The best solution for us as City Hall and the Mayoralty is to create the conditions in which people can get jobs and to encourage employment, to get people into work at all ages and obviously then to continue on our work with tackling the other specific problems that threaten people's health: alcoholism, obesity and so on. The best single cure for the problem that Sir Michael Marmot identifies is obviously economic progress and growth. I do think we are genuinely starting to see that now.

Dr Onkar Sahota (AM): Thank you, Mr Mayor, for that. We had a meeting on Monday where we were discussing these issues. One of the, of course, markers of social deprivation is instances of tuberculosis (TB) in society and you must have been as distressed to learn as I was that London is the capital of tuberculosis in West Europe. This is a disease linked with poverty, social depravation and poor housing. I know that, for example, ten years ago there was a report done by the Health Committee of the London Assembly. We noted that in 2003 there were 2,839 cases of tuberculosis and that last year it 3,436. Where have we gone wrong? Why have we not got this under control, where cities like New York, who have had a worse incidence of tuberculosis than us, have now made great strides in getting this under control. Where have we gone wrong?

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Onkar, it is a very, very painful question and you are right to raise it because this is something where I think you and I are probably in some agreement, and most Members of the Assembly would be in agreement. I wanted the London Health Improvement Board to be put on a statutory footing. I wanted us to have more discretionary powers in this area. I do think it is right that London as a city should take a more active role in public health. Unfortunately, the Government decided in its sort of quango cull that they were going to stop that. I think that was a mistake.

You are right, I think, to draw the comparison with New York, although actually we have very good health outcomes in some areas by comparison with New York. That is not true across the board. In oncology, as you well know, we have disappointing results by comparison with North America and indeed with New York. They lead very, very successful campaigns of raising awareness. So much of the battle in fighting something like TB is about raising awareness, and I will take it up it as far as I can. The next London Health Improvement Board meeting I think is on Monday. I am looking at Victoria [Borwick] here, and I will make sure that I raise it then and we will see what we can do. The difficulty I have is that the boroughs do not-- I am very pro borough management of their problems, I am very pro the boroughs running the city in as much as is possible. There is also a strategic role for us as London in fighting diseases and health problems that face this city. I would like to have a more strategic role, and that is something that we have argued for, for a long time.

Dr Onkar Sahota (AM): Thank you, Mr Major for accepting that there is an issue that you probably do not have the tools to handle, and you will ask the Government to give you those tools. However, I am also concerned about the Health Board you mentioned there. Why are the meetings of the Health Board held in private and not in public?

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Well, I think probably because we want to get as--

Dr Onkar Sahota (AM): Londoners want to know what is happening on their behalf, and the Health Board is a body of the London Assembly.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Sorry, the Health Board is a body of the London Assembly?

Dr Onkar Sahota (AM): In the sense of the GLA.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Yes, I am sorry, I know what you mean. Yes. Well, look, I will discuss it with them on Monday. I am happy to raise the idea. I mean, I am not wholly opposed to it. I think the difficulty is people will speak more freely and they will perhaps be more productive and the discussions may be more useful if people are not worried that anything they say can be taken out of context. Because some of these discussions will be very free-wheeling to be useful, and people will speak their minds very openly about problems, about how we are trying to improve health care in London, and it may be that those discussions are better done on a more informal basis. I will certainly raise it.

Dr Onkar Sahota (AM): Thank you.