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[Editorial] A Brexit general election: the wrong question

Tags: General

Six days after the UK electorate refused to grant Theresa May the parliamentary majority she needed to deliver Brexit, 72 people were killed in an avoidable disaster in Grenfell Tower, west London. It was the worst UK residential fire since World War 2. Stung by the public response, May announced an inquiry, a £5 million fund for survivors, and a promise that all those affected would be given new housing.

Over two years later, and the day before the Conservative party again called for an election to deliver Brexit, the first part of the Grenfell inquiry report was delivered. The building, largely occupied by social tenants, broke fire regulations by the use of cheap cladding. 30 000 homes in the UK have the Grenfell cladding on them. Survivors are still not rehomed.

Housing is a public health issue. The tragedy of Grenfell Tower is a perfect encapsulation of everything currently wrong with the politics of public health in Britain. Beset by years of neglect, the infrastructure that comprises the backbone of public health in the UK is crumbling. Employment, the food supply, air quality, the built environment, social exclusion, gender equity, early child development, and welfare are critically important social determinants of health. These have become secondary to delivery of a Brexit that the Conservative Party can live with.

The future of the NHS is rightly a central issue in the election to be held in the UK on Dec 12. Life expectancy is falling in some areas, and stalling in others. Waiting times for patients are too long. Shortages of health professionals are palpable in GP surgeries and hospitals up and down the country. The social care system is broken. And morale among doctors is low. But the politics of health in the UK are about more than the NHS. Unless the public debate about health is widened to the social and economic determinants of wellbeing across the lifecourse, the UK electorate will be denied the opportunity to vote not only on their future health, but also on the future of a society that will determine their and their children's health for a generation.

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