We face a significant task to tackle inequalities in Britain
The last eighteen months has exposed just now unequal we are in Britain. Investment in large vanity-led infrastructure projects to end regional inequalities is clearly not enough.
Just weeks before we entered lockdown for the first time in March 2020, a landmark review of inequality found life expectancy in England had stalled for the first time in more than a century and in some areas even started to recede. The 10 Years On Review, conducted by Sir Michael Marmot showed the gap in health inequalities had widened over the past decade thanks, in large part, to the government’s austerity policies.
As the dust settled on this damning review, the seriousness of the virus sweeping the world became apparent. When Covid-19 finally reached our shores, the poorest communities up and down the country found themselves acutely vulnerable thanks to years of cuts and neglect from government.
This week, Sir Michael Marmot and the UCL Institute of Health Equity published a new report revealing the existing inequalities affecting Greater Manchester and exposing the scale of devastation the pandemic has wrought on our region.
While the pandemic has affected us all, as this report shows it has not affected us all equally
Devastatingly, the report found Greater Manchester’s Covid-19 mortality rate was 25% higher than the country’s average. In the North West we’ve seen over 18,000 Covid deaths, which far exceeds any other region in the country. On top of this, last year life expectancy in Greater Manchester fell by a shocking 1.6 years for men and 1.2 years for women – a decline Marmot has decried as “jaw-dropping.”
The correlation between poverty and a person’s chance of contracting coronavirus, suffering serious illness, and potentially dying is well established, but for the first time this report underlines how significantly this played out in Greater Manchester. While the pandemic has affected us all, as this report shows it has not affected us all equally. The last eighteen months has exposed just now unequal we are in Britain and how significant the task to correct this will be.
Boris Johnson is fond of pontificating on his government’s commitment to “levelling up” the country, but so far this appears to be little more than an empty slogan. In Conservative minds, investment in large vanity-led infrastructure projects is enough to end regional inequalities – clearly, this is not enough.
If we are truly to level up our country, it must start in those communities hit hardest by the pandemic, and it will require investment in good jobs, good housing, and a better quality of life for all.
Among the many recommendations in Marmot’s report is a call for healthcare spending in Greater Manchester to double in the next five years, as well as a refunding of local government to tackle issues such as homelessness, low educational attainment, unemployment, and poverty. Achieving all of this will require Johnson’s government to spend more and, crucially, spend differently.
Time and again over the past decade, I and other Labour colleagues have raised concerns with the government about worsening health and social inequalities to no avail. As we recover from this awful pandemic, the government has the opportunity to build back better and build back fairer.
Following recommendations laid out in this report, listening to experts on how to truly tackle regional inequalities, and investing in good-quality jobs, better homes, and a good education for all would be a good start.
I represent one of the most deprived areas in the country and my constituents desperately need to see government action to tackle entrenched inequality. In Greater Manchester I know we will continue to do whatever we can to address the inequalities across all of our communities. And Labour remains committed to tackling the determinants of health inequalities so everyone can live healthier, happier, and longer lives.
Afzal Khan is the Labour MP for Manchester Gorton.
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