The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) is calling for investment in public health services to tackle health inequality and deliver NHS savings.
While it is widely known that public health services across the country have faced cuts, new IPPR research has revealed that it is the most deprived communities in England that faced the most substantial cuts.
Analysis of government data by the think tank found that the overall expenditure on public health services, such as sexual health, drug, alcohol and tobacco services, has dropped by almost £900m.
And that the most deprived areas, such as Blackpool, Liverpool and Birmingham, have faced a disproportionate burden of these cuts, despite having the greatest public health need.
The research found that more than £1 in every £7 that was cut from public health services came from the ten most deprived communities in England. While in the ten least deprived communities only £1 in every £46 had been cut.
In total, absolute cuts faced by the poorest areas (£120 million) have been six times larger than the least deprived (£20 million).
Chris Thomas, IPPR Research Fellow, said: ‘Austerity has meant substantial cuts to local government funding, including the public health budget. These cuts have had the perverse effect of hitting the poorest, the hardest.
‘This means the health and wellbeing of the most vulnerable people in our country has been put at risk which puts unnecessary strain on the NHS.
‘Government must ensure our health and wellbeing by investing in a fairer deal for local government.’
Public health services provide vital advice, information and check-ups which are key to preventing people from falling seriously ill or suffering from long term conditions.
Public health programmes aimed at tackling drug and alcohol abuse, smoking, obesity and improving sexual health are particularly relied upon by vulnerable communities, yet these communities have faced the greatest cuts, according to IPPR.
The report argues that public health initiatives also cut NHS costs and can boost the economy more broadly, as preventing people from falling ill in the first place is far more cost-effective than treating illness and lengthy hospital stays.
Additionally, the longer people remain healthy, the longer they are able to contribute to the economy.
Yet the poorest communities, and the people who live in them, are losing the very services that maintain health, deliver health service savings and tackle health inequalities.
The IPPR is calling for a fairer funding settlement for local authorities, so they can provide vital public health and wellbeing services based on their communities’ needs.
The think tank is urging government to reverse the cuts currently restricting public health provision and to change the way funding is allocated so it can be targeted at deprived communities with the greatest public health need.
The current government’s plan to for a one-off public health funding increase of 1% would do little to restore services after years of austerity, according to the analysis.
The IPPR said of the 1% rise were to be repeated annually it would still take until 2027 to return funding to 2014 levels, and in 2023 would remain over £600 million short of the funding IPPR have previously calculated as a minimum necessary uplift.
Shirley Cramer CBE, chief executive of the Royal Society for Public Health, said: ‘This important research from IPPR confirms what we have always feared; that the continued cuts in public health and local government funding are being most sharply felt in some of our most deprived communities.
‘The analysis suggests that such cuts limit access to vital services for the most vulnerable, potentially fuel the rise in preventable diseases, and ultimately compound already unacceptable health inequalities.’
NHS England plans to put more than £1bn by 2023 into efforts to promote the prevention of ill-health in the poorest areas to bring down rates of avoidable death as part of its long-term plan.
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