Two of the largest organisations representing non-government agencies in Australia are calling on politicians across Commonwealth, state and territory governments to implement the recommendations contained in the Senate Community Affairs Committee's report on action on the social determinants of health.

Catholic Health Australia and UnitingCare Australia this morning said their organisations have a long tradition of working to ensure people who are vulnerable, marginalised or living in poverty receive the support they need and deserve. In many cases, those people are susceptible to long-term and chronic health conditions, and governments have a duty to help Australians avoid such circumstances.

The committee, with representatives from the Greens, Labor and the Liberals, made five recommendations in their report:

  • That the Government adopt the WHO report (Closing the gap in a generation) and commit to addressing the social determinants of health relevant to the Australian context;
  • That the government adopt administrative practices that ensure consideration of the social determinants of health in all relevant policy development activities, particularly in relation to education, employment, housing, family and social security policy;
  • That the government place responsibility for addressing social determinants of health within one agency, with a mandate to address issues across portfolios;
  • That the NHMRC give greater emphasis in its grant allocation priorities to research on public health and social determinants research;
  • That annual progress reports to parliament be a key requirement of the body tasked with responsibility for addressing the social determinants of health.

UnitingCare Australia national director Lin Hatfield Dodds said "the Federal Government, as well as state and territory governments, must recognise that decisions they make in every policy area will have an effect on people's health. It is their responsibility to make sure those decisions don't negatively impact on a person's well-being – and preferably that it will improve it."

Catholic Health Australia CEO Martin Laverty said by recommending that the Commonwealth Government adopt the World Health Organisation report Closing the gap in a generation, the senators have given politicians the chance to adapt the international wisdom in that report and give it an Australian context.

"There is no need to re-invent the wheel," he explained. "The WHO engaged the world's leading experts in this area to draft Closing the gap in a generation, and many organisations have considered its ratification and adaptation would set Australia on the right path towards addressing health inequity."

Ms Hatfield Dodds and Mr Laverty commended the leadership of Social Inclusion Minister Mark Butler in establishing the Inquiry and thanked the senators for their work in helping advance the social determinants of health agenda – and, with leadership, improve the health of Australians.

"It's quite fitting that we are talking about this important policy area on National Close the Gap Day," Ms Hatfield Dodds said. "While that initiative has a particular focus on Indigenous Australians, a social determinants approach recognises there are other gaps to be closed."

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