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The role of cultural, community and natural assets in addressing societal and structural health inequalities in the UK: future research priorities

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

L. J. Thomson, R. Gordon-Nesbitt, E. Elsden, H. J. Chatterjee

Original languageEnglish
Article number249
JournalInternational journal for equity in health
Issue number1
Early online date24 Nov 2021
E-pub ahead of print24 Nov 2021
PublishedDec 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information: The research was funded by the UKRI (AHRC): AH/T007184/1. The research was directly commissioned to address priorities in health inequalities and how they might be addressed. Funding Information: The authors would like to thank the UKRI (AHRC) for funding the research and the survey respondents and workshop delegates who participated in the project. Publisher Copyright: © 2021, The Author(s).

King's Authors


Background: Reducing health inequalities in the UK has been a policy priority for over 20 years, yet, despite efforts to create a more equal society, progress has been limited. Furthermore, some inequalities have widened and become more apparent, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic. With growing recognition of the uneven distribution of life expectancy and of mental and physical health, the current research was commissioned to identify future research priorities to address UK societal and structural health inequalities. Methods: An expert opinion consultancy process comprising an anonymous online survey and a consultation workshop were conducted to investigate priority areas for future research into UK inequalities. The seven-question survey asked respondents (n = 170) to indicate their current role, identify and prioritise areas of inequality, approaches and evaluation methods, and comment on future research priorities. The workshop was held to determine areas of research priority and attended by a closed list of delegates (n = 30) representing a range of academic disciplines and end-users of research from policy and practice. Delegates self-selected one of four breakout groups to determine research priority areas in four categories of inequality (health, social, economic, and other) and to allocate hypothetical sums of funding (half, one, five, and ten million pounds) to chosen priorities. Responses were analysed using mixed methods. Results: Survey respondents were mainly ‘academics’ (33%), ‘voluntary/third sector professionals’ (17%), and ‘creative/cultural professionals’(16%). Survey questions identified the main areas of inequality as ‘health’ (58%), ‘social care’ (54%), and ‘living standards’ (47%). The first research priority was ‘access to creative and cultural opportunities’ (37%), second, ‘sense of place’ (23%), and third, ‘community’ (17%). Approaches seen to benefit from more research in relation to addressing inequalities were ‘health/social care’ (55%), ‘advice services’ (34%), and ‘adult education/training’ (26%). Preferred evaluation methods were ‘community/participatory’ (76%), ‘action research’ (62%), and ‘questionnaires/focus groups’ (53%). Survey respondents (25%) commented on interactions between inequalities and issues such as political and economic decisions, and climate. The key workshop finding from determining research priorities in areas of inequality was that health equity could only be achieved by tackling societal and structural inequalities, environmental conditions and housing, and having an active prevention programme. Conclusions: Research demonstrates a clear need to assess the impact of cultural and natural assets in reducing inequality. Collaborations between community groups, service providers, local authorities, health commissioners, GPs, and researchers using longitudinal methods are needed within a multi-disciplinary approach to address societal and structural health inequalities.

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