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How Sick My Country « Previous | |Next »
November 9, 2007

First thing I do every day is to listen to the local and National news on the ABC. Every day I hear a litany of disasters; shootings, stabbings, violence to children, domestic violence, road rage, rapes, burglary, road deaths, white collar crime; the list goes on interspersed in the political and community chatter for law and order action, get tougher, put more in jail and so on.

Very occassionally an academic calls for us to look a little deeper, look at why people behave they way they do. Unfortunately little attention is given to such suggestions. In Europe there is a program sponsored by the World Health Organisation that has been running for several years which addresses many of the causes of our behaviour.

The healthy cities program is centred around ten social determinants of health.The details can be found in the booklet "Social Determinants of Health THE SOLID FACTS."
Ten different but interrelated aspects of the social determniants of health are dicussed. "They explain:
1. the need for policies to prevent people from falling into long term disadvantage;
2. how the social and phychological environment affects health;
3. the importance of ensuing a good environment in early childhood;
4. the impact of work on health;
5. the problem of unemployment and job insecurity;
6. the role of friendship and social cohesion;
7. the dangers of social exclusion;
8. the effects of alcohol and other drugs;
9. the need to ensure access to supplies of healthy food for everyone;
10 the need for healthier transport systems".
Number three embraces early childhood intervention. There are many, many studies throughout the world. One I have examined, followed groups through their development into young adults. Those who enjoyed the benefits of the program compared to those who did not, had jobs, were healthier, committed fewer crimes, etc. The author also said the cost benefits were positive.

The Labor party appears to be adopting this approach. Numbers 4,5 and 6 relate to the Government's Work Choice legislation. Studying these determinants leads me to conclude that when a society is driven only by economic imperatives and the social issues are largely ignored the problems we have today are the result .Things have become even more complicated when we address the community's concern about climate change. We need a change of direction.

The WHO document can be found here.

| Posted by Len at 8:37 AM | | Comments (5)


Mark Latham did address some of these issues in his early books, when he was an up-and-coming politician thinking about the death of social democracy. His argument was that the conditions that sustained the old social democratic ‘project’ of the earlier twentieth century--the welfare state- social democracy -- no longer applied. What was needed were different, more dispersed, solutions to ensure social justice.

David Burchell describes Latham's account well at Australian Policy Online:

The central conundrum of the times, as Latham correctly intuited earlier than most, is the paradox of a society which has never been better-fed, but which seems no less sick, and of a society which has never been better-resourced, but which seems incapable of generating peace of mind and rest in adequate quantities. We have a better-educated population than ever before (at least if credentialing is our guide), and one with an historically unparalleled grasp over their personal destinies (from investment portfolios to health options to insurances of sundry kinds).

And yet we still produce addiction, sadness and dysfunction in apparently unrelieved quantities. Some of us have never been so ‘together’ in our lives, while others struggle to get it together simply to hold down a job. The children of those who struggled once to keep a family together nowadays no longer seem well-resourced enough even to keep themselves together, and too often slide into the slough of petty criminality and chemical self-abuse. As Latham notes in his introduction, poor communities (like the housing estate at Sydney’s Macquarie Fields, in Latham’s former electorate) once ‘were financially poor but socially rich. Today they face poverty on both fronts’. None of these dilemmas are well-addressed by the traditional Left panaceas of state-provided welfare and social assistance, those hardy perennials of another epoch.

Latham did have a go at rethinking this in terms of the Third Way.


If blog comments are any indication there's a fairly strong awareness out there of these problems. Plenty of people make comments like - I live in a society, not an economy. Rudd laid out his social democratic position fairly early on, though less forcefully than Latham.

The media has its own agenda which revolves around selling advertising via sales figures which has everything to do with catastrophising and nothing to do with reality. All news media except online media is losing its market, mostly because people just don't believe it any more. It's too different to lived experience.

Anybody who plans to stay in power for more than five minutes in this country is going to have to address at least some of the issues you raise. I think it's also down to us to a large extent, to look at what we've become and consider whether we like what we see.

Money will not cue the sickness.It is the Nanny State that has caused most of the problems anyway.Just look at the performance of DOCS in NSW presently.It is full of bureaucracy and regulation.It exists for it's own self fulfilling agendas.For every hr a worker does in the field,they spend 10 hrs on red tape.
Litigation and backside covering consumes our Govt Depts and hence their drain on taxes make the rest of society more miserable.

Big business and Multi- Nationals also play a role in our misery,by monopolising markets and increasing the cost of energy and food.

More taxes will only make the problem worse.

Lyn and Gary,
Thanks for your comments.I read David Burchell on Latham.I wonder if Latham came to his conclusions with or without knowledge of the social determinants of health?
He was certainly, wisely so, committed to early childhood reading programs.Most people with the exception of Peter Costalot would be aware of the documented benefits.

I attended a speech yesterday by a Labor candidate talking about social problems with Work Choice.Much of his content sounded as though it was based on the determinants but it was not. I asked him. His background would not have provided a reason to be knowledgeable in the area. Certainly people can come to the conclusion that we need to provide for balance between work and social existence.But it would help convert others if there was greater knowledge in the community that it is all based on an understanding of how the human mind works and why some policies are inherently bad for us all and others good for all.

The social determinants don't call for a nanny state. We already have legislation to protect the community, seat belts,domestic violence, and drink driving. The community doesn't see those as nanny legislation. The social determinants of health need people to be empowered to do the right thing be they Joe and Mary Blow or an employer. Governments can decide to spend more money on more gaols or spend less money pursuading parents that early childhood training will produce a more endearing offspring. It is a cop-out to blame DOCS. We wouldn't need a DOCS if way back people had given more attention to today's parents. We need a caring community more than anything else. It takes a village to raise a child. Authorities are screamed at for interfering in family problems and taking kids away. When they do not and things get worse they are critisised for inaction. Coming between a child and a parent is a great responsibility no matter how good the reason. It is mostly a choice between two evils. Those who take on that responsibility should be respected not abused.