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Keeping Us Well: How non-health charities address the social determinants of health

Stark and widespread health inequalities in the UK represent a striking social injustice. A difference of nearly two decades in healthy life expectancy between those living in the least and most deprived areas is largely influenced by social, economic, and environmental factors—such as housing, work, family life and education, known as ‘social determinants of health’.

The impact that these social factors have on our health mean that even those charities that are not explicitly pursuing a health-focused mission—‘non-health charities’, as we call them—are helping to support people’s health.‘Health’ and ‘non-health’ charities 4% of UK voluntary sector organisations define their charitable activity as health related. These organisations accounted for 11% of spending in the sector in 2014/20153. These charities have a great impact on health by meeting need in areas such as medical research, raising awareness of health conditions, and providing support and advice to those affected by poor health. Some health charities also address the social determinants of health. However, this report mainly focuses on those charities that are not working in or with the health sector directly, but are focusing on social determinants have an impact on health—such as housing and education. For ease, we refer to these charities as ‘non-health charities’.Many non-health charities also provide health related services. For example, a homelessness charity providing health check-ups for those sleeping rough, or mental well-being services for those who are volunteering at the charity. However, these activities are also outside of the scope of this work. We focus on non-health-related activities and their impact on health.This report aims to support non-health charities to better understand and use the evidence about the social factors that impact on people’s health and well-being.

By summarising this evidence and making it accessible to charities, we hope this might enable and encourage them to:

• use findings to shape strategy and service design in order to benefit the health of those they work for

• communicate the health benefits of their work to current and potential beneficiaries

• engage with policymakers and the public about the significance of the social determinants of health in order to build a movement around this agenda

• build partnerships with other health-focused charities

• demonstrate wider impact to funders and supporters and even leverage a more diverse range of funding for their activities

• contribute to the body of evidence by measuring their own impact on health, if appropriate.