‘Fundamental shift’ needed to improve health in poorest areas

The Health Foundation has warned that the government faces an uphill struggle to meet its 'levelling-up' health promises.
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The Health Foundation has warned that the government faces an uphill struggle to meet its ‘levelling-up’ health promises.

Responding to the latest ONS data on the number of years people are expected to live in different local authority areas in the UK (2018 to 2020), David Finch, assistant director of healthy lives at the Health Foundation, said: “The government is facing an increasingly uphill battle in its mission to improve the health of those living in the poorest parts of the UK. Today’s data shows that the gap between the healthiest and least healthy areas of the country has further widened by 1.3 years on the government’s preferred levelling up metric. A girl born today in North Ayrshire or Blackpool is now expected to live 23 fewer years in good health than one in the Orkney Islands.

“A pledge to increase ‘healthy life expectancy’ by five years and reduce the gap between the healthiest and least healthy local authorities was announced last month as part of the ‘levelling up’ agenda. But the government’s strategy suggests it has failed to grasp the scale of the challenge. Our analysis shows that, based on pre-pandemic trends, it will take almost two centuries (192 years) for the government to achieve that increase. Today’s data, which also includes the first year of the pandemic, suggests this number could now be even higher.

“If we are to see progress, there needs to be a fundamental shift in the government’s approach, from a focus on people’s individual responsibility and choices towards actively creating the social and economic conditions that enable them to live healthier lives. This means providing secure jobs, adequate incomes, decent housing and high-quality education. To achieve this, improving health should be made an explicit objective of every major policy decision. Much now rests on the scope of the government’s health disparities white paper, due in the coming months.”

The Health Foundation is an independent charity committed to bringing about better health and health care for people in the UK.

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