Why is good health important?


Good health is of social and economic value to individuals, society and the economy. It is an enabler of the prosperous and flourishing societies that governments strive to achieve.

Thinking about the value of good health encourages a focus on the benefits of creating health and wellbeing in today’s environments, rather than simply treating disease in individuals. It provides the basis for considering the moral, social and economic case for investing in action that creates and maintains health.

The ultimate source of any society’s wealth is its people. Investing in their health is a wise choice in the best of times, and an urgent necessity in the worst of times.

David Stuckler, The body economic: why austerity kills

The moral case

The moral case for maintaining and improving people’s health has been made from several perspectives, including the following.

  • The welfare state – in 1942 Sir William Beveridge published a report making recommendations aimed at tackling unemployment, the cost of childcare, a lack of good housing, and public health issues such as malnutrition. The report was popular and the main political parties agreed that the recommendations would help create a more equal society.
  • Good health is a basic human right – it featured in the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 25) in 1948. It is also one of the core principles in the Constitution of the World Health Organization.
  • The capability approach – this relates to the moral importance of a person having what they need (for example, good health and a home) to do the things they wish to do and live a good quality of life. The case for this approach was first made by economist and philosopher Amartya Sen in the 1980s. Seen from this perspective, health and wellbeing is a resource for living, and is a matter of social equity and justice.

Today, the UK is a wealthy society. Yet a baby girl born in Richmond upon Thames is expected to live 17.8 more years in good health than a baby girl born in Manchester. Few would consider this just – there remains a lot of progress to achieve the society that Beveridge, the UN and Sen envisioned.

Box 3: Health as a human right in Scotland

Scotland’s National Action Plan for Human Rights encourages and coordinates efforts across government, local authorities, services, voluntary organisations and businesses to focus more on their human rights responsibilities in everything they do. These responsibilities include improving people’s health and wellbeing.

It was launched in 2013 and is a collaboration between the public and voluntary sectors, drawing on experiences around the world, as well as guidance from the United Nations and the Council of Europe.

Find out more: https://beta.gov.scot/policies/human-rights

The social case

Good health is an important enabler of positive family and community life. It enables people to participate in, and contribute to, society in different ways.

  • A family member in good health is better able to build foundations that support other family members to thrive. For example, a parent providing emotional support for a child. On the other hand, health challenges such as childhood obesity and poor mental health can negatively affect family life and people’s ability to form and maintain good quality relationships.,,
  • Having good health enables people to take part in civic society, including clubs and social groups, while poor health may hinder participation. In turn, engagement with communities can have a positive effect on social cohesion.

The economic case

Where a person stands in the labour market – such as whether they have a job that pays enough to live on – is key to their financial security and wellbeing.

Yet that person’s wellbeing throughout their life is also crucial to employers, businesses and the economy as a whole.

The potential economic benefits of ensuring the best possible health of the population are huge. A healthy population can be good for the economy because:

  • healthier children have better educational outcomes, which positively impact productivity in adulthood,
  • a healthy working-age population can lead to economic prosperity by being more engaged and productive
  • a healthy person is enabled to continue to work as they get older, whereas poor health can lead to forced early retirement.,,,,

Conversely, a working-age population that is unwell, particularly with mental health problems, will likely negatively impact the UK economy.

  • People with health problems are more susceptible to unemployment, lower earnings, sickness absence and lower household income.,,
  • Every year, 300,000 people stop work and become reliant on health-related benefits.
  • A further 140 million working days are lost to sickness, costing the UK economy £15bn.

Because poor work conditions can in turn affect health, a vicious cycle of poor health and poor wealth emerges, at huge cost to individuals, society and the economy.

A healthy population is therefore essential for a thriving society and economy.

We have a collective responsibility – to bring about a more stable and more prosperous world, a world in which every person in every country can reach their full potential.

Christine Lagarde, Managing Director, International Monetary Fund

Box 4: The value of health – research by the Health Foundation

Through the Health Foundation’s Social and Economic Value of Health research programme, we are building on the existing evidence for the role of good health as an asset for society and the economy.

This research forms part of a broader programme of work through which we aim to make the case that governments at all levels need to consider investment in maintaining and improving people’s health as synonymous with investing in the economy and society as a whole.

Find out more: www.health.org.uk/collection/socio-and-economic-value-good-health

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