A person’s social environment includes their living and working conditions, income level, educational background and the communities they are part of. All these have a powerful effect on health. The big differences in social environments within Europe contribute to wide disparities in health. There are big gaps in life expectancy and disease rates between rich and poor, the well and the poorly educated and manual workers and professionals.
Many different EU initiatives are under way to improve the social environment. Among the most important are schemes to: create more and better jobs, improve the health, safety and quality of working environments, ensure access to social benefits for people moving between countries, promote research, and provide funding to develop the economies in poorer parts of the EU.
Action to reduce health inequalities is an important objective of the EU Health Strategy adopted in 2007 and the EU Health Programme 2008-2013. The long term objectives are to: bring general levels of health closer to those of the most advantaged, ensure the health needs of the most disadvantaged are fully addressed accelerate improvements in public health in countries and regions with greater rates of sickness.
The EU also aims to develop a European health information system to enable a much more in depth understanding of health inequalities within the EU.