University of Liverpool

Tackling social inequalities in health

For over 30 years, Professor Dame Margaret Whitehead and her colleagues in Liverpool have been pioneering research on tackling social inequalities in health. They have been asking, ‘what can be done to address the shorter lives and earlier onset of disability among children and adults living in more disadvantaged circumstances?’

Their work covers a whole spectrum, from ethics to action. In 1990, Professor Whitehead identified the principles of equity and health for the World Health Organisation (WHO), leading to the development of the world-famous ‘Dahlgren and Whitehead model of the main determinants of health’ and actions to tackle health inequalities. Since then, Margaret’s work has informed the development of public health strategies of the 50 plus countries in WHO Europe.

Professor Whitehead, working with Professor David Taylor-Robinson and Ben Barr, also produced the first empirical evidence of:

  • the reduction of health inequalities as a result of the NHS Health Inequalities Resource Allocation Policy
  • the adverse mental health impact of welfare policy changes for disability-related benefit claimants
  • the effectiveness of the national health inequalities reduction strategy in England
  • the success of child poverty reduction strategies and impact of reversal of policy at local and national levels

Margaret was awarded a Damehood in the 2016 New Year Honours list for services to public health.In 2018 she was selected by the Royal Colleges of Physicians of the UK as an ‘Outstanding Woman in Medicine’ for the RCP’s celebratory exhibition of 'women in medicine'.

Further reading