Poverty blamed for ethnic ill health

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People from ethnic minorities who live in poverty have the worst health in Britain, according to research. Pakistanis and Bangladeshis are 50 per cent more likely to suffer ill-health than whites, while Caribbeans are 30 per cent more likely to be in poor health.

In the past, differences in health have been attributed to biological or cultural factors, but they are in fact linked to socio-economic status, says the Policy Studies Institute.

The PSI research, which looked at 8,000 people, shows that Pakistanis and Bangladeshis are in poorest health and at greatest risk of heart disease and diabetes. Caribbeans have the next poorest health and highest rates of hypertension and respiratory problems.

In comparison, Indians, African Asians and Chinese who are closest to whites in income are equally healthy.

In June, the Government announced that the former chief medical officer, Sir Donald Acheson, was to conduct an inquiry into why poor people die sooner than the rich, as part of a drive to highlight the impact of social issues on health.

The PSI found that while 11 per cent of whites reported lacking one or more basic housing amenities, 38 per cent of Pakistanis and Bangladeshis said the same. And while whites were unemployed on average for seven months, Caribbeans experienced 21 months and Pakistanis and Bangladeshis 24.

Looking at standards of living, which included overcrowded accommodation, less than four consumer durables such as telephone, fridge, freezer and washing machine, half of all Pakistanis and Bangladeshis had a poor standard of living compared to only 8 per cent of whites and 14 per cent of Indians. Only 9 per cent of Pakistanis and Bangladeshis had a good standard of living compared to 34 per cent of Indians and 43 per cent of whites.

Almost 40 per cent of Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Caribbeans reported that they had poor general health while this was the case for only a quarter of the more affluent ethnic groups.

One in five of the poor ethnic groups said their ability to perform physical tasks - such as climbing a flight of stairs - was limited by their health.

"Poor health is associated with poverty," said James Nazroo, author of the research. "Some ethnic groups are among the poorest people in Britain and they also have the worst health. They also appear to be receiving poorer quality health care than whites."

5 The Health of Britain's Ethnic Minorities; Grantham Books - 01476 541080; pounds 14.95