THE HEALTH FOUNDATION has responded to the announcement of the UK government’s ‘levelling up’ white paper, suggesting that it fails to grasp the magnitude of the health challenge in England.

Jo Bibby, Director of Health at the Health Foundation, said: “The target set to be outlined in today’s white paper to close the gap in healthy life expectancy between the richest and poorest areas over the next decade, while welcome, is extremely ambitious. It appears the government has failed to grasp the enormity of the challenge.

“The regeneration schemes are too narrowly focused to address the entrenched inequalities in left behind areas. The decision to expand mayoral combined authorities has the potential to tackle regional inequalities but several parts of the country with the worst healthy life expectancy will miss out on previously announced funding. This means that people living in the poorest parts of the country, who can already expect to die over a decade earlier than those in the wealthiest, are unlikely to feel the benefit.

“Good health is vital to getting a job and staying in work. In Hartlepool, 22 per cent of working age people have a health problem that limits their ability to work compared to 10 per cent in Wokingham. The rising tide of avoidable ill health, if not addressed, will continue to be a major brake on efforts to level up opportunity and prosperity.

“Significant progress on improving the nation’s health depends upon a fundamental shift from viewing health as just the business of the NHS. A healthier and fairer society needs secure jobs, good pay, decent housing and high-quality education. While there is some recognition of this in today’s announcements, insufficient funding means that, as it stands, the levelling up agenda is unlikely to lead to significant improvements in any of these areas.

“Much now rests on the government’s ‘disparities’ white paper. But it will be set to fail if it only focuses on people’s individual responsibility and choices. Health and wealth are inextricably linked. Government policy must now recognise this and create the social and economic conditions needed to give everyone in the country the opportunity to live a healthy life. Achieving this will require ‘a ‘whole government’ strategy where improving health is an explicit objective of every major government policy, building on the requirement set out today for departments to report progress against the missions set out in the levelling up white paper.”

* Source: The Health Foundation