Climate change is becoming ever more real for many of us, with pressure and momentum to tackle it, rightly increasing across the investment sector.
We’re still also in the midst of the most devastating global pandemic in living memory. It’s cost the economy dearly, cost many business owners their livelihoods, and cost many families their loved ones, a price that can’t be valued. The pandemic has underscored pre-existing societal challenges, inequalities, and underlying health issues. It led to a labour market exodus, and one that the UK is unique across the OECD in having not recovered from, with chronic illness being the main driver of our the stalled labour market recovery. It’s put a spotlight on the strong link between good health and economic prosperity.
In research we conducted last year, funded by The Health Foundation, we found that despite strong evidence linking health to economic performance, this is blind spot for the investment sector. It is unclear whether this is because investors have struggled to grasp the breadth and interconnectedness of health, because the data needed is ill-defined (and typically poorly reported), or because investors have been too busy focusing on other topics.
Last week, I was on a panel at a Portfolio Institutional event, where the entire discussion on ‘social factors’ was dominated by health and equity. But don’t just take my word for it – there’s plenty of examples of health moving up the agenda throughout the finance world; Legal and General have called for a ‘H for health’ to be included in the ESHG approach, Rathbone Greenbank is pushing to hold the UK Government to account for ensuring food companies report on the healthiness of their sales, and there’s been a number of investor resolutions relating to vaccine equity and sick pay over the last two years.
Momentum is building. I’m hearing of more and more asset managers bringing health Leads or Analysts within their ESG teams, and others would do well to follow. A recent ruling – placed an obligation on charitable Trustees in the UK to consider the effect of their investments on their charitable purposes. This places a new expectation on all health charities in the UK to consider the impact of their investments on human health, alongside financial return. There will be Chief Investment Officers all over the UK seeking advice from well informed managers about how they best meet these new obligations. Those managers who are ahead of the curve and able to demonstrate a track-record on health can be poised to reap the reward.
At ShareAction, one of the UKs leading responsible investment NGOs, we’re building a new programme to support asset owners and managers to move health further up the responsible investing agenda. We have a growing team of health experts supporting investors with research, insights and collaborative opportunities to engage key companies and sectors. This builds on our successful Healthy Markets initiative, working with investors to hold the food industry accountable for its impact on our diets.
For investor’s wanting to take-up this challenge and give health greater priority, ShareAction’s new Long-term Investors in People’s Health Initiative can support you. With a growing alliance of investors, new joiners are welcome to sign-up until 30th September 2022 by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org. This work is funded by Guy’s and St Thomas Foundation and The Health Foundation.