The coronavirus pandemic showed how quickly governments can provide financial support for those struggling with the cost-of-living crisis, MSPs have heard.
Failing to act quickly to provide aid to low income families struggling with food and fuel poverty could worsen health inequalities, experts said.
The Covid-19 support included a test and trace support programme which provided those on low incomes with a £500 payment to cover isolation costs.
In evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Health, Social Care and Sport Committee on Tuesday, MSPs heard how rising inflation and energy prices were having detrimental effects on those with existing health inequalities.
As energy costs skyrocket, inflation has hit a 40-year high of 9%.
SNP MSP Emma Harper asked the expert panel what barriers prevented UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak from implementing policy to prevent health inequalities being exacerbated.
Gerry McCartney, Glasgow University professor of wellbeing economy, told the committee that it came down to “political choice”.
He said: “Each country and administration will make their own choices about this but it’s ultimately a question of priorities.
“I think if the cost of living and the inflation costs that people are facing are not addressed by policy then it will have massive consequences on the real experience of poverty and, as a result, will have a massive consequence for people’s health.”
Poverty impacts access to healthcare because it can prevent people from being able to reach their GP surgery or eat or heat their homes, MSPs were told.
David Finch, assistant director of Health Lives Directorate at the Health Foundation, said the pandemic highlighted that politicians are able to step in urgently to support vulnerable people.
He said: “It does come down to choices and we saw from the pandemic that it is possible to put in place some quite significant support at relatively short notice.
“A concern of ours would be the remaining resilience of families as well as where people have already gone through the pandemic and lower income families, in particular, are more likely to have built debts through that period.
“Then, coming into a cost-of-living crisis, lower income households are also likely to face rising inflation rates.
“The knock-on health impacts of that are a significant concern. All the extra support to help tackle that is something that can be tackled through increased Government support, whether that’s through the benefits system, which typically would be the quickest way to get support to lower income households.”
The expert panel also included Claire Stevens, chief executive of Voluntary Health Scotland, and David Walsh, public health programme manager at Glasgow Centre for Population Health.