'Seeing desperate poverty and inequality of life chances galvanised me and has continued to be a driving force for more than 25 years'

'You are what you are,' the saying goes. While this is true to an extent, a lot depends on the circumstances you are born in.

In my early public health career in Glasgow, I saw greater poverty in the deprived communities I worked with than I ever had before. There, the aspiration was to have your own front door, a dream not achieved by families who lived in tenement blocks.

Seeing such desperate poverty and the inequality of life chances galvanised me and has continued to be a driving force for more than 25 years. It is imperative to allow equal chances for all, particularly children.

The Department of Health's work on infant mortality and life expectancy has focused on the importance of people and places and on the health inequalities that still exist in England.

As a result, we now know much more about the interventions required and the short-term and longer-term actions we need to take.

We have also found time to look at the wider issue of equality that needs to be addressed.

It is well known that black and minority ethnic people experience significant inequalities in health outcomes, with many also experiencing other social conditions that cause health inequalities, such as poor education, poor housing and unemployment.

This is underscored by the statistic that the spearhead group - which comprises local authorities with the worst health and deprivation indicators - contains 44 per cent of England's black and ethnic minority population, despite accounting for only 28 per cent of the country's total population.

Ethnicity is also a key factor in infant mortality. Mothers born in Pakistan and the Caribbean suffer a much higher rate of infant mortality than the rest of the population.

Working alongside colleagues such as national director for equality and human rights Surinder Sharma and national director for children, young people and maternity services Dr Sheila Shribman has been key in tackling these issues.

In my role, which involves working across government departments, I have found that we are all interested in working to help the same people and same places.

It is about working together, not being too protective of 'your' area of policy but seeing the wider picture. This may sound like an obvious point, but sometimes people don't do the obvious, instead creating long-winded circuitous ways around it.

Fortunately, it is starting to come together - the new commissioning framework, joint strategic needs assessment and joint directors of public health being closely linked to planning are all good starts. When health is seen as a community's responsibility right through all processes, we will starting really winning.

In closing, here are a couple of questions for you to answer: are you a champion for health inequalities and equality in your area of business? Does your area of business include the wider community as well as health?

Wouldn't it be great if everyone could answer yes? Then we could really help transform people's life chances.

Maggie Rae is head of health inequalities and local delivery for the Department of Health.