In local government we should always be grateful that public health funding has not suffered the same slashing cuts as the mainstream budget.
Nevertheless, the recent announcement that public health funding has been frozen means, realistically, spending will go down because of inflationary pressures.
This is particularly bad news if you read the ‘Due North’ report, which follows an inquiry into health equity in the north of England.
The inquiry was quite clear in its findings that ‘the austerity measures introduced in response to the 2008 recession have fallen more heavily on the north and on disadvantaged areas more than affluent areas’, making the north-south health divide even greater.
The report confirms to us that, while it represents 30% of the population of England, the north includes 50% of the poorest neighbourhoods. People living in the north have persistently had poorer health than the rest of England’s population and, since 1965, this equates to 1.5m excess premature deaths in the north compared with the rest of the country.
The Due North inquiry panel determined four key causes of health inequalities between the north and south: differences in poverty and the power and resources needed for health; differences in exposure to health-damaging environments such as poorer living conditions and unemployment; differences in the chronic disease and disability left by the legacy of heavy industry; and its decline and differences in opportunities to enjoy positive health factors such as early years education and food security.
This report makes for difficult reading in places, no more so than where it highlights children’s early years as a critical period for their future. Within England, the health of children is generally worse in the north, reflecting the higher levels of child poverty; the report tells us that children who start behind tend to stay behind.
The panel highlights local authority cuts and welfare reforms as an exacerbating factor for the north. It says: “These measures are leading to reductions in the services that support health and wellbeing in the very places and groups where need is the greatest.”
The freeze in public health funding only adds to a picture which confirms that more needs to be done, and spent – not less.
Graham Burgess is chief executive of Wirral MBC