Responding to the publication of the Lords Public Services Inquiry Levelling Up report, Dr Jennifer Dixon, Chief Executive of the Health Foundation, said:
'Today’s report is right to highlight that improving health across the country should be a key measure of success for the levelling up agenda. With the focus so far on boosting infrastructure and skills, a healthy population is also essential for economic recovery and prosperity.
'It is good the government acknowledges the need to address inequalities in its ambition to 'level up'. The next step must be to set out a coherent strategy to achieve this, building on the initial policies and funding announced yesterday. Such a strategy must include a clear path to reducing avoidable and costly ill health – including mental health – assessed against measurable goals and metrics. Without that, avoidable ill-health will be a drag on future prosperity.
'The strategy for levelling up must be cross-government owned, with both the Cabinet Office and Number 10 taking overall responsibility. It should tackle the most important factors that influence our health – including poverty, unemployment, low quality work, inadequate early years support, and housing – targeting areas of the country where healthy life expectancy has been deteriorating. It is time to get much more serious about health. If not now after a pandemic, when?
'Local government has a central role to play in addressing these ‘wider determinants’ of health, and it will be important to link a strategy for levelling up with any new plans to develop devolution within England. The report rightly highlights our call to reverse cuts to local authorities’ public health grant, which has been reduced by a quarter since 2014/15. The underfunding of public health services has undermined the resilience of our poorest communities and further entrenched geographical inequalities.'
One of our COVID-19 impact inquiry’s key aims is to create greater understanding of the role existing health and inequalities played in determining the impact of the pandemic. It provides a guide to priority areas of focus for policy to ensure the recovery improves health and reduces inequality.
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