Public health cannot be separated from economic development


Ill health is not just a social problem, says the chief executive of the Centre for Local Economic Strategies

For the past four months an independent inquiry has been sifting through evidence to examine why health inequalities are growing both within the north of England and between the north and the rest of the country.

Drawing on a deep evidence base, the report brings a northern perspective to a wider debate on a national problem.

The causes of health inequality are broadly similar across the country, but poor health increases with rising socioeconomic disadvantage.

The report paints a gloomy picture, with the severity of the causes of ill health greater in the north. The panel found austerity measures and cuts were key factors in making the situation worse, as they had impacted more heavily on disadvantaged areas – and there are more such areas in the north.

The report details evidence on trends in health inequalities and flowing from this is a set of recommendations, based on the root causes of such inequalities.

It has sought to bring a fresh perspective to the issue. It looks at ways to build on the north’s assets to target inequalities while also outlining what central government needs to do, both to support action at the regional level and re-orientate national policies to reduce inequalities, including a fairer allocation of resources to the poorest.

Ill health is not just a social problem but an issue for economic productivity. It’s holding back efforts to reduce demand on public services. For this reason it’s absolutely vital that we link economic development and public health to a much greater extent than seen to date.

On a practical level, this means better connections between local enterprise partnerships and health and wellbeing boards and a more explicit recognition of the connections. The cycle will not be broken unless we link public health with the economic lives of people and communities.

With the public health function having ‘come home’ to local government in April 2013, councils are well positioned to push on and lead efforts to address this growing health divide. But for this to happen, the transfer of more power and resources is required so that local areas can deal with the wider social and economic determinants of ill health.

That means greater control over the work programme and activities to improve skills so that meaningful local collaborations develop between the labour market, the local economy and health – resulting in greater flexibility over budgets and more innovation on the ground.

Good health cannot be the preserve of the rich and materially secure. But by following the inquiry’s recommendations across a range of actions and policy changes we will start to turn the tide and ensure good health for all.

The original article can be read on the Public Finance website here.