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Social Justice

Health inequalities: How does your area of England compare to others?

Think tank IPPR has challenged Boris Johnson to wipe out the health inequalities across the country to show he is serious about levelling up.

A first-of-its-kind health inequality tracker allows people in England to check health and wealth statistics in their local area.

It comes as progressive think tank The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) challenged the government to create a New Zealand-style ‘wellbeing budget’ to show its intent to level up the country.

Healthy life expectancy in England could be increased by more than three years if regional disparities are levelled up with a £35bn fund, new IPPR analysis found.

Northern cities and suburbs, midlands cities and coastal cities were identified as areas where public health was being particularly influenced by a combination of material conditions and lack of health infrastructure, according to the research. Data for every area of England can be viewed here.

A direct correlation was made between wealth, poverty, social conditions and health, with the research finding that if health outcomes matched those in areas where health is the best, the average overall life expectancy in England could also increase by two years.

The Conservative party manifesto currently aims to increase healthy life expectancy by five years by 2035. 

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Further benefits of resolving the ‘disease of disparity’ would include 1.3 million fewer people living with depression, as well as a reduction of childhood obesity and overweight prevalence from 35 per cent to 32 per cent.

It was recently revealed that living in poverty increased a child’s risk of developing asthma by 70%.

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The IPPR has recommended a new public health budget of £35billion targeted specifically at investment in social structures which affect heath – a figure that is based upon New Zealand’s wellbeing budget. The report suggests the figure could be delivered as soon as the 2022 spring budget.

Chris Thomas, IPPR senior research fellow said: “The government needs to learn the lessons of New Zealand’s ‘wellbeing budget’ and prioritise public spending in areas that boost the health and long-term prosperity of the nation.

“Creating good jobs, improving education, expanding skills and enhancing public health services will have a major impact on levelling up health across the country.”

IPPR has suggested that relying solely on GDP as an indicator of public health results in a failure to invest in alternative measures that could support health. Such measures include a reversal of the controversial universal credit cut, a new free food scheme for families, as well as investment in improving skill sets and appropriate wages.

Closing the health inequality between the north of England and the rest of England would also generate over £20bn a year, the report estimates. 

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The pandemic has drawn attention to health disparities across the UK, sparking high profile campaigns over universal credit and school meal provisions. 

According to the report, prior to the pandemic, life expectancy in Blackpool was nine years lower than in Westminster. 

Charlotte Augst, CEO of patient group National Voices, said: “Our many members, who directly support people living with ill health, impairment and disability, know that the burden of illness falls very unequally on the different communities they serve.

“This disease of disparity has made it harder for us to manage the pandemic, and it will make it even harder to recover from it.”

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