Socioeconomic Health Inequalities in Europe: The Role of Law and Human Rights

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This chapter discusses the role of law and human rights in socioeconomic health inequalities in Europe. Given that socioeconomic health inequalities are largely unnecessary and avoidable, it is widely claimed that they lead to health inequities (i.e., avoidable inequalities in health). Addressing health inequities is considered to be an ‘ethical imperative’ and a ‘matter of social justice’. Human rights standards provide a moral and legal framework for assessing matters of social justice, including socioeconomic health inequalities. This chapter analyses how the main European organizations (EU and Council of Europe) address health inequalities. Specific attention is paid to the role of human rights law as a tool that may give support and priority to improving health and reducing inequities. By way of explaining how social determinants are addressed at the domestic level, the chapter discusses (the approaches to) socioeconomic health inequalities in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. The chapter establishes that while not as dramatic as in the United States, socioeconomic health inequalities are a reality in Europe, and that inequalities have widened both between and within European countries. It concludes that reducing health inequalities should be a key priority in European and domestic health policy, and that human rights law plays an important role in informing what needs to be done.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Oxford Handbook of Comparative Health Law
EditorsDavid Orentlicher, Tamara Hervey
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages20
ISBN (Print)9780190846756
Publication statusPublished - 2022

Publication series

NameOxford handbooks online


  • health inequalities
  • human rights


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