COVID-19 report reveals major hit to the North’s health and economy

By Agencies
November 18, 2020

The North has been hit harder than the rest of the country during COVID19 and this has increased inequality in England, a new study involving Newcastle University has revealed. Researchers have found that the pandemic hit the North harder and more deeply and that mitigating measures must be put in place to stop inequalities rising further and faster.

The report conservatively estimates the economic cost of the increased mortality in the North during the pandemic at £6.86 billion and the deterioration in mental health in the region due to the pandemic at around £5 billion a year.

Compiled by the Northern Health Science Alliance and other organisations, the report included a list of 12 recommendations to 'level-up' the country, including renewed efforts to tackle child poverty.

The report led by scientists from the universities of Newcastle, Manchester, York and Liverpool found 57.7 more people per 100,000 died in the Northern Powerhouse than the rest of England between March and July.

They also said that since the pandemic, adverse trends in poverty, education, employment and mental health for children and young people have worsened.

Clare Bambra, Professor of Public Health at Newcastle University, said: " Our report highlights that we are not all in the pandemic together with the Northern regions being hardest hit. Health and wealth in the Northern Powerhouse lagged behind the rest of the country even before the COVID-19 pandemic, and over the last year our significant regional inequalities have been exacerbated.

“We need to significantly ‘level up’ the country by providing immediate additional support to local authorities and devolved administrations in the North - and by investing further in public health prevention in the Northern Powerhouse. In this way, we can reduce the inequalities that the pandemic has highlighted and ensure that our regions are better equipped for building back better.”

Figures show austerity simultaneously put the Northern region in a more vulnerable position by reducing health and wellbeing, and cost the UK around £2 billion a year in lost productivity, with over £16 billion lost since 2011.

Hannah Davies, Health Inequalities lead for the Northern Health Science Alliance, said: “Health inequalities between the North and the rest of England have been growing for over a decade. This report demonstrates the impact that has had on the productivity of the region and how it has led COVID-19 to take a devastating grip on the North.

“We call on the Government to follow the recommendations of the report to put mitigating measures in place, to support public health measures, reduce child poverty, tackle mental health to support [the] North through the pandemic and allow its ambition of levelling up to become an achievable reality.”

The report authors make a series of recommendations to stop further deteriorations in the level of inequalities:

  • Place additional resource into the Test and Trace system in the Northern Powerhouse and deliver through local primary care, public health, NHS labs and local authority services to ensure full population coverage.
  • Target clinically vulnerable and deprived communities in the Northern Powerhouse in the first phase of the roll out of the COVID-19 vaccine.
  • Increase NHS and local authority resources and service provision for mental health in the Northern Powerhouse. Invest in research into mental health interventions in the North.
  • Reduce child poverty – increase child benefit, increase the child element of Universal Credit by £20 per week, extend provision of free childcare, remove the benefit cap and the two-child limit; and extend provision of free school meals. Invest in children’s services by increasing government grants to local authorities in the Northern Powerhouse.
  • Maintain and increase the additional £1,000 extra funding of Universal Credit.
  • Provide additional resource to local authorities and the NHS in the Northern Powerhouse by increasing the existing NHS health inequalities weighting within the NHS funding formula in its reset and restore plans.
  • Deliver a £1 billion fund ring-fenced to tackle health inequalities at a regional level and increase local authority public health funding to address the higher levels of deprivation and public health need in the North.
  • Create northern ‘Health for Life’ centres o­ffering a life-long programme of health and wellbeing advice and support services from pre-natal to healthy ageing programmes. Targeted to the most deprived areas in the North, they will take a preventative approach to health directly into the communities which need it most.
  • Deliver health and mental health promotion interventions together with industry and employers, targeted at employee mental and physical health.
  • Level up investment in health R&D in the North of England to create high value jobs and support local health and drive the economy.
  • Recommit to ending child poverty.
  • Develop a national strategy for action on the social determinants of health with the aim of reducing inequalities in health, with a key focus on children.

Professor David Taylor-Robinson, Professor of Public Health and Policy at the University of Liverpool, and Professor of Child Public Health at the University of Copenhagen, said: “The poor child health of children in the North of England is unacceptable, and a major driver of the stark inequalities in later adult health and productivity documented in this report.

“The pandemic has made things worse, and the dramatic rise in child poverty predicted will have negative impacts for generations to come unless we take concerted action. To have any chance of ‘levelling-up’ it is essential that families with children are prioritised in the pandemic response and that immediate action is taken to reduce child poverty.”

Professor Kate Pickett from the Department of Health Sciences at the University of York said: “COVID-19 has brought into sharp focus the unacceptable inequalities in health and life chances suffered by children in the North. We need policies now that support our families and children during and following the pandemic.”

* Read COVID-19 Tackling inequalities forUK health and productivity here

* The Northern Health Science Alliance brings together ten universities, ten research-intensive NHS Trusts and four Academic Health Science Networks.  https://www.thenhsa.co.uk/

* Newcastle University https://www.ncl.ac.uk/

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