Background: It is widely acknowledged that austerity measures in the wake of the global financial crisis are starting to undermine population health results. Yet, few research studies have focused on the ways in which the financial crisis and the ensuing 'Great Recession' have affected health equity, especially through their impact on social determinants of health; neither has much attention been given to the health consequences of the fiscal austerity regime that quickly followed a brief period of counter-cyclical government spending for bank bailouts and economic stimulus. Canada has not remained insulated from these developments, despite its relative success in maneuvering the global financial crisis.Methods: The study draws on three sources of evidence: A series of semi-structured interviews in Ottawa and Toronto, with key informants selected on the basis of their expertise (n = 12); an analysis of recent (2012) Canadian and Ontario budgetary impacts on social determinants of health; and documentation of trend data on key social health determinants pre- and post the financial crisis.Results: The findings suggest that health equity is primarily impacted through two main pathways related to the global financial crisis: austerity budgets and associated program cutbacks in areas crucial to addressing the inequitable distribution of social determinants of health, including social assistance, housing, and education; and the qualitative transformation of labor markets, with precarious forms of employment expanding rapidly in the aftermath of the global financial crisis. Preliminary evidence suggests that these tendencies will lead to a further deepening of existing health inequities, unless counter-acted through a change in policy direction.Conclusions: This article documents some of the effects of financial crisis and severe economic decline on health equity in Canada. However, more research is necessary to study policy choices that could mitigate this effect. Since the policy response to a similar set of economic shocks has globally varied and led to differential health and health equity outcomes, comparative studies are now possible to assess the successes and failures of specific policy responses. This raises the question of what types of public policy can mitigate against the negative health equity effects of severe economic recessions.
- Global financial crisis
- Health equity
- Social determinants of health