UK health and wealth divides widening despite push to ‘level up’, report says

People in the UK are becoming ‘sicker and poorer’, with a gaping gap in health and wealth between regions only getting worse, research shows.

Economic inactivity due to illness is at its highest level since records began, with 2.5 million working-age adults inactive due to health, says the IPPR report, to be released later this week.

The government’s leveling program is badly compromised, the report says, as new data shows the disease is twice as likely to force people out of work in north east England, Wales and Northern Ireland than in London and the South East. .

Labor said the report was ‘devastating’ and showed the Tories were ‘totally failing to deliver on their promises and inequality is actually getting worse’.

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Since Rishi Sunak took over as Prime Minister, the leveling program promoted by Boris Johnson appears to have fallen down the list of political priorities, despite the Tories’ need to defend a swath of ‘red wall’ seats in the north and the Midlands at the next election.

The IPPR report shows that a significantly higher than average proportion of working-age people are economically inactive due to poor health in the North East, North West, Yorkshire, East Midlands, Country of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

People in Northern Ireland are most likely to be out of work due to illness. A total of 10.8% of the Northern Irish population is too sick to work, compared to 4.4% in the South East. The UK average is 6.1%.

All of these areas also have below-average life expectancies and below-average productivity per person, according to the report, “Getting Better? Health and the UK labor market”, to be published on Wednesday.

Productivity levels in these places are well below levels in London, where each person adds an average of £52,239 to the economy a year. This compares to £20,364 in the North East, where productivity is lowest, and an average of £29,063 in the UK. This gap of over £30,000 between London and the North East has increased by £8,000 since 2012.

The northeast also has the lowest healthy life expectancy, at 59, compared to 66 in the southeast, which has the highest healthy life expectancy. Healthy life expectancy is the measure of the number of years people report living in good health.

The report finds that Covid-19 has exacerbated this regional inequality, as Wales, Scotland and all parts of northern England and the Midlands have higher long-term Covid incidences than the UK average.

Chris Thomas, head of the IPPR’s Health and Welfare Commission and author of the report, said: “The evidence is increasingly clear: a fairer country is a healthier country, and a better health is a more prosperous country. Yet we are becoming sicker and poorer as a country – with growing health inequalities undermining national prosperity, especially in the north and decentralized nations.

“If the government is serious about improving the country, it needs to do a lot more to make better health the cornerstone of the UK’s economic recovery. Better health is the best and clearest path to a better life, a fairer economy and greater prosperity for all of us.

One of the government’s upgrade missions was to reduce the gap in healthy life expectancy between the most disparate areas by 2030, and by 2035 it will increase by five years. However, a new bill gives the government the power to unilaterally modify its missions.

Ebbw Vale Main Street
The main street of Ebbw Vale. Wales’ long Covid rate is among the worst in the UK. Photography: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Lisa Nandy, the shadow leveling up secretary, said: ‘Three years ago the Tories were elected on a promise to ‘level up’ the UK, with reducing health inequalities being one of the main objectives. This devastating report shows that the Conservatives are completely breaking their promises and that inequality is actually getting worse.

“For too long, people and places across the UK have been written off. The next Labor Government will support all people and places with the biggest ever transfer of power outside of Westminster, as well as reforming employment support for the economically inactive and investing in our NHS.

Jordan Cummins, director of health at CBI, the business group and member of the commission, called on the government to intervene to stop the reduction in economic growth caused by the health inequality gap.

He said: “Businesses across the country care deeply about the health and resilience of the workforce and need this to be a government priority. The loss of millions of people from the labor market has a real human cost, but also presents a drag on economic growth.

“Government action, in partnership with industry, will be crucial. Policymakers must prioritize prevention, reduce harm once people are sick, invest in innovative treatments, and partner with businesses to accelerate progress and create healthier workplaces and opportunities to work. more inclusive jobs.

Clare Bambra, professor of public health at Newcastle University and another member of the IPPR commission, said: “The north has enormous economic potential. But time and time again, research has shown that the government’s failure to address health inequities sets it back. If ministers are to improve the country, deliver a better life for all and ensure a productive economy, they must tackle health inequalities in the north of England and beyond.

A government spokesperson said: ‘We prioritized health and social care in the Autumn Statement with an additional £8billion, on top of previous record funding, to ensure people can access high-quality care as soon as possible.

“We are supporting those facing the cost of living crisis with £1,200 in aid to the most vulnerable households and have provided more than £3.4billion this year to local authorities in England to address issues such as alcohol consumption, obesity and smoking.

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