Sir Donald Acheson has announced plans to call the members of his inquiry into health inequalities back together in the wake of an official response to his report last week.

The move comes as two former members of the team which produced the pioneering Black report 20 years ago accused the government of 'avoiding the main issue' in its Saving Lives public health white paper.

In its response to the Acheson report, published alongside the white paper, the Department of Health points to 'action to be taken across government' to meet Sir Donald's recommendations.

In particular, it cites changes to welfare benefits, including the introduction of working families' tax credit, as evidence of its commitment 'to tackle the causes of poverty and social exclusion, not just to alleviate the symptoms'.

But Sir Douglas Black, whose report was suppressed by the Conservative government in 1979, said Labour had been prevented from tackling the root causes of health inequalities by its manifesto promises.

'The main thing that has been lacking in the government's response so far has been its election commitment which, surprise, surprise, it has adhered to not to redistribute money by taxation to any serious extent, ' he told HSJ .

And Professor Peter Townsend, who served on the Black inquiry team, said the government had 'failed to address the question of adequacy in all of its statements and papers on welfare reform'.

He said: 'Of course nobody objects to some of the specific measures in the white paper to do with cancer, stroke and the rest of them. But it is a diversion to pretend this is a major part of the story because it isn't. The major part of the story is the benefits paid to people in need of long-term support.'

Sir Douglas said that, although critical, 'I am a supporter of the government, and when my support wavers I look back at what went before.

Compared with Maggie Thatcher the present government are saints.'

In a brief written statement following the government's response to his report, Sir Donald Acheson noted that 'the influence of our report and its priorities is clear'.

He said his team was glad to see that the four key national targets would be matched by local targets to reduce health inequalities. He concluded: 'We hope to meet to evaluate the effects of the white paper in the autumn.'

See news focus, pages 9-11.