Public health experts urge government to put health at centre of levelling up agenda

Health needs to be at the heart of the Government’s levelling up agenda, say researchers at the Universities of Cambridge and Newcastle. The team has published practical guidance on how to reduce health inequalities.

  Blackpool  Credit: Francis Heathcote

Based on decades of research around tackling health inequalities at local and regional level, the guidance is aimed at central and local government as well as other agencies with a stake in improving health.

The team has published its report on the Cambridge Research Methods Hub website. It sets out five principles and eight policy recommendations that are designed to be used together long-term across national, regional and local systems.

The principles are:

  • Allocating resources proportionate to need

  • Working in partnership with local communities

  • Developing long-term, multisector and cross-government programmes

  • Offering bespoke services to disadvantaged groups

  • Ensuring initiatives are healthy-by-default and easy to use.

Each principle is supported by case studies, such as Healthy New Towns, the Big Local initiative, and New Deal for Communities.

Dr John Ford, lead author and Clinical Lecturer in Public Health at the Primary Care Unit, University of Cambridge, said: “The new guidance has been produced to show how to level up health. We already know that progress on closing the gap is possible. The previous cross-government health inequalities programme reduced the socio-economic gap in life expectancy by six months and improved overall life expectancy. This was achieved through sustained, multi-component, and cross-government action over more than 10 years.”

Policy recommendations include: health being a core part of levelling up; development of a cross-government health inequalities strategy; establishing a consensus around what levelling up health means; and a focus on the social and structural factors that determine health.

Importantly, the report recommends a move away from initiatives that require individuals to invest time and effort to benefit from, such as promoting gym membership, because they tend to increase inequalities. Rather, the researchers recommend initiatives that make healthy choices the default and require minimal effort from the individuals, such as fluoridation of water and opportunistic screening for health problems during vaccine appointments.

Furthermore, the report calls for an end to competitive bidding of local areas to allocate public funds. Instead, it recommends allocating funding based on population need.

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Image: Blackpool

Credit: Francis Heathcote

Reproduced courtesy of the University of Cambridge

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