Headlines: April 28th, 2010

There is growing concern about the widening gap in health inequalities across England in 2010. This includes the inequalities in life expectancy, in illness and in health and wellbeing. Current measures to reduce the gap are not working. A report from the IDeA, ‘A glass half full’ describes how an asset approach is improving community health and well-being.

The report identifies clear links between mental wellbeing and physical health and the contribution that social factors make to health. It is vital to create and develop healthy and sustainable communities in order to reduce inequalities. To achieve this, the authors argue for a shift in emphasis from concentrating on the deficits and problems within communities and rather to build on the assets of a community.

The health and well-being of communities falls far beyond the scope of the NHS. Local government has risen to the challenge of working with its communities to improve health and plays a leading role in local partnership working. Councillors have a vital strategic role in promoting well-being through the provision of services, as elected representatives, as scrutineers and as ‘place shapers’.

Reducing health inequalities requires promoting flourishing communities where everyone has someone to talk to, neighbours look out for each other, people have pride and satisfaction with the place where they live and feel able to influence decisions about their area. Residents should be able to access green and open space and feel safe going out. The asset approach provides an ideal way for councils and their partners to respond to this challenge.

The report presents evidence that when practitioners begin with a focus on what communities have, their assets, as opposed to what they don’t have, their needs, a community’s efficacy in addressing its own needs increases. The ‘deficit’ approach focuses on the problems, needs and deficiencies in a community. It designs services to fill the gaps and fix the problems. As a result, a community can feel disempowered and dependent; people can become passive recipients of expensive services rather than active agents in their own and their families’ lives.

The asset approach values the capacity, skills, knowledge, connections and potential in a community. In an asset approach, the glass is half-full rather than half-empty. Fundamentally, the shift from using a deficit-based approach to an asset-based one requires a change in mind-set with a different set of values and principles and an alternative way of thinking about the world.