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What Is Necessary for Coalitional Movements to Be Successful in Addressing Inequalities in the U.S.?

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Income inequality is an acceptable and unavoidable component of a productive capitalist economy. Therefore, the government should not intervene by attempting to control income inequality. Many of the social externalities that have been linked to income inequality, such as poor health care, lack of opportunity and higher crime, are in actuality repercussions of poverty and not directly linked to income inequality itself. The government's role should therefore be to focus its resources on helping the impoverished. In the long run, helping the truly poor is a much more beneficial goal than narrowing inequalities. Past attempts by the government to halt the explosion of income inequality have included a more progressive tax system, increased earned income tax credits and other policies that attempt to redistribute wealth from the rich to the poor.

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A rich history of social movements shaped progressive thought throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Historian Sidney Milkis characterizes the accomplishments of the original Progressive Era as “momentous reconstructions of politics,” a description that equally applies to the numerous social movements that aimed to better align America’s political and social order with its ideals of liberty, equality, and opportunity for all. Progressivism as a reform tradition has always focused its moral energy against societal injustice, corruption, and inequality. Progressivism was built on a vibrant grassroots foundation, from the Social Gospel and labor movements to women’s suffrage and civil rights to environmentalism, antiwar activism, and gay rights. The activists and leaders of these movements believed deeply in the empowerment and equality of the less privileged in society, the primacy of democracy in American life, and the notion that government should safeguard the common good from unchecked individual and commercial greed. They challenged government to eliminate its own legal injustices and also harnessed the force of government as a vital tool for advancing human freedom and establishing the “more perfect union” envisioned by the Founding Fathers. Central to all progressive social movements is the belief that the people do not have to wait for change from the top down—that people themselves can be catalysts for change from the bottom up. Many social movement activists came from middle- or working-class backgrounds and possessed the courage and skill to organize others, risking great personal sacrifice and danger. Nonviolent themselves, many of these activists faced ridicule, violence, and other hardships in their efforts to push their fellow citizens toward more enlightened positions in line with the country’s stated values.

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According to Marmot and Wilkinson, health inequalities are “the systematic, structural differences in health status between and within social groups within the population” (Marmot and Wilkinson, 1999). HealThese factors may include diet, housing, employment, and access to healthcare among others. Thus, the focus of healthcare inequalities concentrates on factors that reduce accessibility to healthcare services for different socioeconomic groups. These factors may include diet, housing, employment, and access to healthcare among others. Thus, the focus of healthcare inequalities concentrates on factors that reduce accessibility to healthcare services for different socioeconomic groups. Conditions which determine accessibility to healthcare services usually present serious challenges to policymakers in their attempts to address them. This is because most of these causes have relations with other multifaceted factors. Consequently, the solutions must also reflect the nature of these causes. Existing inequality in healthcare has prompted the UK government to initiate a culture of targets and performance. Consequently, it has come up with some few strategies. First, we have Public Service Agreements (PSAs). Ministries have developed a department (spending) to ease their works with the finance ministry. PSAs can play a fundamental role in reducing disparities in the provision of health services. However, this department lacks the structure of fulfilling this role since that was not its primary aim. Deakin and Parry propose the linkage between the PSAs policy, outcomes and accountability because of the social policy this department can address (Deakin and Parry, 2000). Second, the famous Acheson Report has no provisions for reducing health inequalities. The report notes that causes of health inequalities are complex and involve elements which interact. Therefore, the government did not provide any provision for addressing such inequalities. Consequently, it introduced some targets in 2001 (Acheson, 1998).

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After all, much of the literature on social movements centers on cyclical theories of political opportunity. While such work lays an important foundation for understanding contentious politics, it fails to fully integrate movements as actors in the American political system and public policy process. As such, the ways movements exercise power in the American political system, and the ways that power is constrained, are often not clearly conceptualized.

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Acheson, D 1998, Independent Inquiry into Inequalities in Health, The Stationery Office, London.

Deakin N and Parry R, 2000, The Treasury and Social Policy: The Contest for Control of Welfare Strategy, Palgrave, Basingstoke.

Department of Health 1999, Saving Lives: Our Healthier Nation. White Paper Command 4386, The Stationery Office, London.

Flinders, A 2002, ‘Governance in Whitehall’, Public Administration, vol.80 no. 1, pp. 51–75.

Illsley, R 1999, ‘Reducing Health Inequalities: Britain’s Latest Attempt’, Health Affairs, vol. 18, no. 3, pp. 45–46.

Marmot, M and Wilkinson, G 1999, Social Determinants of Health, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

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What Is Necessary for Coalitional Movements to Be Successful in Addressing Inequalities in the U.S.?
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