Sir Michael Marmot, the world-leading expert on health inequalities, has been made a Companion of Honour in the new year honours, among a series of people to be rewarded despite their often outspoken criticism of ministers and government policy.
Marmot, who headed a landmark inquiry into UK health inequalities and has since been vocal about the lack of action to address them, receives one of the most prestigious honours in existence.
The Companion of Honour rewards UK or Commonwealth citizens for long-term prominence in the arts, science, medicine or government, and is limited to just 65 people at any one time.
Marmot, who heads University College London’s Institute of Health Equity, said that as well as being delighted with the award, he felt the decision said “something very good about Britain” given his regular criticisms of government.
In renewed condemnation of policies since 2010, Marmot said austerity “made poor people poorer and deprived those in need of services, markedly increasing health inequalities”.
The current cost of living crisis was, he said, a renewed challenge. “We see it in the drama of public sector workers, after 12 years of pay cuts, striking so they have enough money to feed their children without resort to food banks,” Marmot said. “The poor in Britain are poorer than in most European countries. A policy of low pay for essential workers is not only bad for their health, it defeats government wishes to grow the economy.”
The two MPs given knighthoods in the new year honours have proved similarly troublesome to ministers.
Chris Bryant, the senior Labour backbencher who chairs the Commons standards committee, has been centrally involved in a series of events damaging to government, including the investigations into Tory ex-minister Owen Paterson and Boris Johnson.
Bryant said he was very shocked, calling the news an honour for the whole committee. “I was surprised. I have no idea how this comes about,” he told PA Media.
Julian Lewis, the Tory MP for New Forest East since 1997, humiliated Boris Johnson in July 2020 by becoming elected to lead parliament’s powerful intelligence and security committee, evading an attempted stitch-up by Johnson to install Chris Grayling, a loyalist.
Johnson stripped Lewis of the Conservative whip, and he was forced to sit as an independent for six months.
Alok Sharma, the Tory MP and former minister, was knighted for his work chairing the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow. Andrew Stephenson, the MP who chaired the Tory party for two months under Boris Johnson, received a CBE.
Among awards for civil servants, Tom Scholar, who was ousted as the head Treasury civil servant by Liz Truss and her then chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, is elevated to the Order of the Bath.