Acting on health inequalities will save lives and money
Across the UK, disparities in health and care are the most visible part of the levelling-up agenda – and tackling them is central to bridging regional gaps in wealth and productivity, say experts and Parliamentarians.
This is the message in Policy@Manchester’s new digital collection, Health Inequalities. Drawing on research from across The University of Manchester, this piece offers evidence-led insight and policy recommendations on the causes, effects, and solutions to disparities in health and health outcomes in the UK and around the world.
“If productivity in the Northern Powerhouse increased to match the UK average, it would equate to a potential £44 billion real terms gain to UK GDP,” says Dr Luke Munford, a Senior Health Economist, adding; “around 30% of the productivity gap can be attributable to worse health in the Northern Powerhouse.”
The work on regional inequalities highlights the disparity in life expectancy and quality of life that exists between the North and South of England, and the impact of this on productivity and economic outcomes. The research advocates place-based interventions, supported by central government but delivered by local and regional authorities.
Peter Dowd, MP for Bootle and Co-Chair of the APPG on Health, notes that the UK suffers from the worst regional inequality in Western Europe. He agrees that place-based interventions, like those advocated in Health Inequalities, are needed; “We have particular issues in my constituency, and interventions here need to be radically different to those in more affluent areas. Research from The University of Manchester has revealed the scale of the challenge we face – now we need committed action from central Government to give local authorities the resources and power they need to implement solutions on the ground.”
The collection also examines the role of the digital divide in shaping and deepening inequalities in access to health and care services. Notably, those with the least digital literacy are also those whose data is most likely to be exchanged between healthcare services, with the authors calling for a strengthening of access and support for vulnerable groups.
“COVID-19 has brought health inequalities to the forefront of political thinking. We have seen how the disease interacts with pre-existing disparities in health along gender, ethnic, and socio-economic lines, among others” writes Professor Arpana Verma. “We have also seen how these factors overlap, resulting in worse health outcomes for those at their centre.”
The drive towards digital healthcare has been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which also disproportionately affected ethnic minority communities. In Health Inequalities, researchers note that workers from ethnic minority backgrounds accounted for more than 50% of all deaths in the NHS workforce. Meanwhile, mental health outcomes for ethnic minority patients – particularly Black individuals – are worse than those of their white peers. Tackling inequalities in physical and mental health for ethnic minority patients requires culturally sensitive care, say the researchers, alongside clearer understanding of the socioeconomic circumstances they face.
This includes worse housing and lack of local amenities, with the pandemic starkly demonstrating how poor housing is linked to poorer health outcomes. Meanwhile, many deprived communities face worse air quality than more affluent neighbourhoods, putting further burdens on their health and wellbeing. In Health Inequalities, academics call for more co-developed solutions to deliver greener, better-quality houses and cities for the communities living there.
Read all the articles in Policy@Manchester’s Health Inequalities collection.
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