How Can We Dismantle Health Inequity Together?

National Voices' conference to realise the power of the voluntary sector

The conference is supported by the Health Foundation, an independent charity committed to bringing about better health and health care for people in the UK.

Why this conference now?

Health inequity was a major intractable problem even before the pandemic hit. But COVID-19 has made pre-existing health inequities starker, widened the gaps, and generated fresh injustice. The stakes could not be higher, yet the barriers to change are also significant and complex. As the voluntary and community sector in health and care, we have a responsibility to intervene at this pivotal moment in history, where there is all to play for: a moment that holds the potential for transformational change to narrow the health gaps between rich and poor, black and white; but also a moment that risks leading to the entrenchment of existing gaps, if not further widening. There could not be a better time for voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) organisations to take stock, to clarify our role and our purpose, and to identify opportunities for us to work together for fairness in health.

What the conference aims to achieve

National Voices’ virtual conference, spread across four Tuesdays in March (2nd, 9th, 16th and 23rd), is a call to action for the VCSE sector. It will provide an interactive digital experience that will enable VCSE organisations to share their work, insights and ideas about how to collaborate to dismantle health inequity. Participants can identify examples of how they've already been effective, as well as what is limiting their ability to act to challenge health inequalities. Are the barriers political, organisational or driven by resource constraints? How can these barriers be overcome so we can come together to take joint action around health inequalities?

We are particularly interested in exploring what our role is in addressing the causes, rather then the effects of structural inequity. Clearly many of us work with people and communities to overcome the effects of inequality. But could we do more to get upstream? To address the ‘causes of the causes’ of ill health – poverty, racism and exclusion?

What the conference will do

It will provide a platform to hear from keynote speakers from across politics and the health and care sector, who will share their insights about how the VCSE sector can effectively tackle the social determinants of ill health in order to increase health equity. It will enable National Voices member organisations to organise and run sessions that share their learning. Thematically, it will focus on three main social determinants of inequity that have been thrown into sharp relief in recent months: poverty, race and digital exclusion. But more than that, the conference will foster collaboration and deliver tangible learning that focuses on fairness and justice in our health systems. It aims to realise the power that is in our hands, in our people, and in our organisations, so we can open conversations, hearts and minds, and doors to profound and lasting change.

Speakers confirmed

  • Sir Michael Marmot
  • Jo Bibby (Health Foundation)
  • Dr Halima Begum (Runnymede Trust)
  • Emma Stone (Good Things Foundation)
  • Dr Bola Owolabi (NHSE/I)



Day 1 (2nd March): Building Back Fairer: reframing the conversation around poverty and health
3 sessions: 9.30-10.30am; 1-2pm; 2.15-3.15pm

Day 2 (9th March): Mobilising people to combat racial inequality: the power of voice
3 sessions: 9.30-10.30am; 1-2pm; 2.15-3.15pm

Day 3 (16th March): Bridging the digital divide: partnering up to combat digital exclusion
3 sessions: 9.30-10.30am; 1-2pm; 2.15-3.15pm

Day 4 (23rd March): What now? How we can take action together
1 sessions: 9.30-11am.


Day 1 (2nd March): Building Back Fairer: reframing the conversation around poverty and health

We will hear about the current picture of health inequity in England, both before and after the outbreak of COVID-19, and begin exploring the VCSE sector’s role in tackling it. With poverty arguably at the root of most of the other social determinants of health, and a recession gathering steam, how to tackle poverty needs more attention than ever. Yet the narrative around poverty is often victim-blaming or so politicised that charities in health are fearful of wading into this battle. How can we reframe the conversation around poverty so that we can overcome our own sector's barriers to taking action, and have more impact, regardless of who is in power? We will hear from experts who have been contemplating this question and charities who have reframed their own campaigning. We will explore the power and potential of reframing the conversation around poverty.

Day 2 (9th March): Mobilising people to combat racial inequality: the power of voice

In the last year, people have come together with renewed energy to combat racial inequality, most prominently through the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Given the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on people in racialised and minoritised groups, specific action to challenge the causes of these disparities in health experiences and outcomes is critical. Today, we will platform those who have led campaigns and mobilised people to combat racial inequality in health. We will discuss how we as a sector can support positive change, and learn from these campaigns. How can we make sure these efforts are led by and work with affected communities? How can we support sustainable, lasting change? To what extent does the problem lie within and outside the health system and services, including the voluntary and community sector itself?

Day 3 (16th March): Partnering up to combat digital exclusion: bridging the gap

The digital health revolution prompted by COVID-19 holds many positives for many people, but also risks exacerbating health inequalities. Some face layers of digital exclusion - they cannot access digital healthcare services, nor can they access a range of other services upon which their health and wellbeing depend – food shopping, banking, benefits, employment and education chief among them. On this day, we will surface evidence of exclusion, discuss its roots, and highlight practical solutions for inclusion. We know that members are doing good work moving existing services across to digital, and establishing new ones, and that many of you are acutely aware of issues surrounding digital exclusion. Throughout this day we will focus on the power of partnership in tackling inequity, and what we as a sector can achieve through working with others.

Day 4 (23rd March): What now? How we can take action together

We do not want to meet again in 10 years’ time to confront a reality that health inequalities have stayed the same - or even worsened. Yet the problems we face are serious and complex, especially in the context of a global pandemic and the recession it is likely to unleash. So, knowing what we know now, what can we do to make things better? How can we combat poverty, racial inequality, and digital exclusion? How can we reframe some of these conversations to open doors, as well as hearts and minds? How can we work together as communities and VCSEs to create the change we want to see in the world? What one action could we commit to to take forward professionally or personally following the conference?

In this final day and session of the conference, we will facilitate a 90-minute session in which we will pull together our learning from the week about what the VCSE sector can do to reduce health inequity. We will consider the challenges and opportunities for change across poverty, racism and digital exclusion. We will identify the barriers to change, as well as the tools we can use to surmount them: reframing the conversation, working together collaboratively to amplify our voices, and strengthen our campaigns and causes, and more.

We hope you are able to join us to build a strong foundation for the change we all want to see in the years ahead.

Tue, 2 March 2021
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Multiple times
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