Commenting ahead of the Chancellor’s Budget announcement next week, Dr Jennifer Dixon, Chief Executive of the Health Foundation, said:
‘This Budget needs to reach the people who have been hardest hit by the pandemic – including households under the greatest financial strain as a result of measures to manage the pandemic and low paid workers who have kept essential services going while at risk from COVID-19.
‘The stress of rising debts, reduced income and unemployment will lead to poorer mental and physical health for millions of people. These pressures will fall hardest on the least well off who were already living with worse health before the pandemic.
‘If the country is not to face a huge avoidable burden of illness in future, support targeted at the most vulnerable is needed right now. This means making sure there is no cliff-edge when the furlough scheme is wound up. Many people currently on furlough are at risk of unemployment if this safety net is suddenly withdrawn.
‘Adequate financial support and job protection needs to be available for people asked to self-isolate to limit the spread of the virus to others, particularly for those in low paid and insecure work.
‘The temporary uplift to Universal Credit should be made permanent. This would be a first step towards ensuring that social security support provides an adequate standard of living and that there isn’t a further widening of poverty-related health inequalities in the wake of the pandemic, particularly for families with children.
‘There are substantial health consequences related to national lockdown restrictions, including increases in mental health issues and alcohol abuse – with more to follow with the likely rise in unemployment. An immediate and robust public health response is needed. The government needs to make a substantial down payment in this Budget towards restoring the public health grant, which has been cut by over £1 billion since 2015/16, and reviving threadbare local authority budgets.
‘For the Spending Review in the autumn, a solid commitment to sustained multi-year investment in local government and public health is needed, alongside a long-term cross-government plan to reduce the indefensibly wide gaps in health between the most and least well off in our society.
‘The government will also need to use the next Spending Review to invest heavily in health and care to meet the ongoing health demands of COVID-19, tackling the backlog in treatment delayed due to the pandemic, and fix social care. This will require a realistic conversation about how all this can be funded over the medium and longer term.’
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