Good health and wellbeing should not depend on where you live or how much money you have. And yet, Health Equity in England: The Marmot Review 10 Years On, commissioned by the Health Foundation, highlights that we are seeing an unacceptable decline in the number of years that some people in England can expect to live a healthy life, as well as widening differences in people’s health. 

It’s vital that economic and public health policies take these inequalities into account to improve health and lay the foundations for a flourishing economy. 

How can a focus on the economy help? 

There’s strong evidence that people’s economic circumstances – the security and safety of their jobs and their level of income – are key to their health, as they influence almost every aspect of people’s lives.

Economic growth may go hand in hand with improving health, but some forms of economic growth are better for health than others and creating wealth for the country does not necessarily create health for all its people equally. There’s growing awareness that economic development strategies can influence how economies work in ways that could be better for health at a local, regional and national level.

The importance of good work

The new Marmot review highlights that while rates of employment have increased since 2010, there have been significant changes to the quality of work over the past decade, with serious implications for people’s long-term health. The burden of low-quality work falls disproportionately on certain groups. It is concentrated among those with less education and lower social status. Young people under 25 are particularly badly affected, and there are significant geographical variations.

Recent Health Foundation analysis found that one in three UK employees report having a low-quality job in which they feel stressed or lack control at work. People in low-quality jobs are more than twice as likely to report that their health is not good.

To address this, the government should focus not only on getting more people into work but on boosting job quality. This will mean employers giving greater consideration to job security, job design, management practices and the working environment.

Seizing the opportunity of the UK Industrial Strategy

However, the thinking needs to go wider than just jobs. There are growing opportunities in the UK for tailored economic development initiatives, as the government seeks to encourage local and regional areas to innovate and take charge through devolution efforts and the UK Industrial Strategy. There are exciting new funding opportunities for this work in the form of the Towns Fund and the proposed Shared Prosperity Fund

These discussions come at an important time, particularly as the world is facing two fast-approaching economic transitions. First, to automation – as discussed in a previous blog – and second, to decarbonisation, as efforts to respond to the impacts of climate change increase. 

Following the general election, economic disparities between regions have had much more attention. This too presents an opportunity, as the new government has indicated there is likely to be an intensified focus on working to develop areas that have been performing less well – particularly in the North of England. 

Using economic development to improve health

This spring we will publish a new report exploring how economic development can be used to improve people’s health and reduce health inequalities. This will describe what a health-enhancing economy would look like and articulate ways to get there, with examples of good practice in six countries, including the UK. The case studies show how different places have used innovative economic development approaches to try and improve people’s health, including: 

  • a city strategy that places health and growth as core objectives of local policy in Plymouth
  • work to engage local communities, schools and businesses in designing a regeneration project in Glasgow 
  • a one-to-one support service for workers who have lost their jobs in Sweden. 

The overall message is that a whole-government approach to addressing health inequalities is needed, using policies to create an economy with the health and wellbeing of society at its core. We must build an economy that promotes equity and social cohesion, encourages access to products and services that are good for health, and is environmentally sustainable. 

Later this year we’ll also be launching a new £1.5m funding programme to support this approach. This will be a three-year programme that will fund collaborations of local and regional government, universities and specialist organisations to embed health and health inequalities into local economic development interventions, and measure the health impacts. The programme will generate new learning about how to use economic development strategies to improve the conditions which everyone needs to lead a healthy life. 

Watch out for more info on this in future newsletters and on social media, or email Isabel.Abbs@health.org.uk to receive updates about the funding programme. 

 

Yannish Naik (@healthyyan) is Senior Policy Fellow – Public Health, and Isabel Abbs (@isabel_abbs) is a Policy Intern at the Health Foundation.

This content originally featured in our email newsletter, which explores perspectives and expert opinion on a different health or health care topic each month.

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