The Adverse Impact of Income Inequality on Health & Wellbeing

To paraphrase the opening line of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice: it is a truth universally unacknowledged, that not everyone is afforded the same opportunity to live a healthy life, and one of the key drivers for health inequalities are the inequalities that persist in our society at large. I’m pretty sure that’s correct.


Yet, this candid adage has been – and continues to be – a lived reality endured by many for centuries, with socio-economic analyses dating back to the 1800s reporting on the correlation between low income and high mortality. In recent months, the Coronavirus pandemic has brought such structural inequalities into sharper focus, with those living in impoverished conditions throughout the UK having been disproportionately affected by both the virus itself and its associated economic downturn. As figures from the Office for National Statistics show, residents living in the poorest areas of the country are more than twice as likely to die from Coronavirus than their more affluent counterparts, whilst the proportion of jobs at risk in the 20 lowest-income subregions could be as high as 29%; compared to just 21.5% for the highest-income areas.


Stepping outside the immediate context of COVID-19, a recent report published by The Health Foundation highlights that those who are in the bottom 40% of income distribution are almost twice as likely to be living with poor health than those in the top 20%. Quite simply, such statistics highlight the endemic nature of social inequalities that are still entrenched in British society. Reasons for this stark income-health inequality often include the fact that having a low income can deny access to health-promoting goods and services, as well as higher quality food and better housing in areas that offer plenty of facilities and green spaces that are proven to be beneficial for both our physical and mental wellbeing. In turn, poor health can prevent people from gaining or remaining in employment, leading to increased reliance on lower, often precarious, streams of income. These factors all serve to perpetuate the income-health inequality cycle, as illustrated below.

However, there is action that we can take, both collectively and as individuals, in order to tackle this issue and redress the balance of social inequalities. One of the key buzzwords that has come to define 2020 is ‘allyship’, defined as being the practice of promoting social justice and inclusion in order to advance the equitable distribution of resources for marginalised groups and individuals. To be silent is to be complicit, and we should not prepared to do that. At Steps To Work, we firmly believe that those with the biggest barriers to engaging with the fruits of the economy deserve the most help to build a brighter future, and are thus proud to be an ally to groups that often struggle for a seat at the table. By helping marginalised peoples to source meaningful, rewarding and sustainable employment opportunities, we are working to break the cycle of income-health inequality. But there is still more we can do. By partnering with other individuals, groups and organisations we can gain collective momentum that can be instrumental in orchestrating change. 


For more information, please download the full report published by The Health Foundation: Living In Poverty Was Bad For Your Health Before COVID-19. Alternatively, for further details about the employability support services offered by Steps To Work, as well as information on how you can get involved in addressing health-income inequalities, please visit:


About the Author: Tom Byrne
As Marketing Manager at Steps To Work, Tom is an advocate of socio-economic equality and commentator on social inclusion for all. With a background in anthropology, he has delivered guest lectures at Russell Group universities and taken part in panel discussions that focus upon the way in which businesses can tackle social injustice and harness diverse talent. Tom is also a member of the Diversity & Inclusivity Committee at Birmingham BPS. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.