Intended for healthcare professionals

Observations Life and Death

Excessive wealth is damaging the nation’s health

BMJ 2009; 338 doi: (Published 01 April 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;338:b1293
  1. Iona Heath, general practitioner, London
  1. aque22{at}

    Health equality cannot be achieved without explicit policies to reverse the growing disparities in individual wealth

    In his 1749 poem The Vanity of Human Wishes, Samuel Johnson sounded a warning: “Wealth heap’d on wealth, nor Truth nor Safety buys, The dangers gather as the Treasures rise.” This echoes across the centuries in the story of Fred Goodwin, erstwhile chief executive of the Royal Bank of Scotland, who so perfectly exemplifies contemporary corporate greed. Wealth and poverty are always linked, and the poor are always exposed to the comparison, continually aware of the possibilities and opportunities that are available to the rich but that appear forever inaccessible to themselves.

    Our government talks a lot about doing something about poverty in general and child poverty in particular, and the health service finds itself repeatedly charged with the responsibility to tackle health inequalities. However, the assumption seems always to be that these worthy objectives can be achieved without any explicit policies concerning the growing disparities in individual wealth. The slogan “excessive wealth is damaging the nation’s health” is …

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