The final report of the World Health Organization Commission on the Social Determinants of Health (CSDH), published in 2008, affirmed that social injustice was killing on a grand scale, with a toxic combination of 'poor social policies and programmes, unfair economic arrangements, and bad politics' being responsible for producing and reinforcing health inequalities. It provided a comprehensive evidence-based discussion of pervasive inequalities of health in many countries, demonstrating the presence of a social gradient in health outcomes associated with the unfair distribution of the social determinants of health. The social determinants of health include the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age, and the fundamental drivers of these conditions: the distribution of power; money; and resources. Following publication of the CSDH report and recommendations for action, the UK Government commissioned a Strategic Review of Health Inequalities in England. This article provides an overview and reflection on the findings from the CSDH and the Strategic Review of Health Inequalities in England, reviewing the case for putting fairness at the heart of all policy making. In the process, it highlights the need for action on the social determinants of health in order to address health inequalities and the social gradient in health outcomes. Copyright © 2012 The Royal Society for Public Health. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.