Health

Vera Carstairs obituary


My mother, Vera Carstairs, who has died aged 95, was a research social scientist in the civil service. She devoted her studies to illuminating links between social and economic deprivation and poor health.

As a civil servant, Vera was employed as a social researcher and statistician, first as principal research officer for the Scottish Home and Health Department (1966-75), then as assistant director in the Scottish Health Department Information Services Division. In addition she taught in the University of Edinburgh Medical School, later serving as Scottish Health Services Research Network Coordinator.

She served as chair of the Society for Social Medicine (1982-83), remaining an honorary member thereafter, and then, from 1991, was an honorary member of the Faculty of Public Health. She was also a member of the Social Research Association and attended meetings of the British Sociological Association Medical Sociology Group.

Although not a medical graduate, she was nonetheless awarded an honorary doctorate by the Faculty of Medicine in 1995. Her professional legacy is the Carstairs Index of Deprivation, which supports the analysis of the relationship between health and socio-economic circumstances and has informed the development of the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation.

Born in Cheltenham to Dorris (nee Hirst) and Daniel Hunt, who both worked as shopworkers and in catering, Vera grew up in London and Nottingham. Leaving Manning school for girls in Nottingham in 1941, she worked at the Meteorological Office. After the war she benefited from a special entrance exam for service personnel, and studied economics, sociology and statistics at University College London and the LSE, graduating in 1949.

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A year later, she married Morris Carstairs, a doctor, in Cambridge, where he was studying anthropology. The couple moved to Udaipur, India, in 1951, where she assisted him in his field research, which contributed to his book The Twice-Born: A Study of a Community of High-Caste Hindus (1958).

They returned to London in 1952 following the birth of their first child, going on to have two more. On Morris’s appointment as professor of psychiatry at the University of Edinburgh in 1961, the family moved to Scotland. My parents divorced in the 1970s, whereafter Vera had a long partnership, until his death in 2015, with Graham Scott, a senior Scottish civil servant in the health department.

Vera lived and worked with intelligence, enthusiasm and honesty. She was a cook, a sailor, a gardener, an opera lover, a traveller, a seamstress, a photographer and, briefly, a fly fisher. Above all, she was an independent spirit, brave and fearless.

She is survived by her children, Mungo, Jamie and me, and three grandsons.



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