The Government should introduce ‘wellbeing budgets’ that look beyond gross domestic product (GDP) to reduce regional health inequalities, a think-tank has urged.
A report by the Institute for Public Policy Research called for a £35bn public health budget after publishing a fresh analysis of health inequalities in England, which revealed life expectancy gaps of up to 14 years between different towns and cities.
The report warned devolution and the new integrated care systems will have little impact on these inequalities without fundamental reform and investment.
It said this should include building policy around the Office for National Statistics’ health index – as well as GDP.
IPPR associate fellow Jonathan Pearson-Stuttard said: ‘Investment and resources are required but [they] must be targetted and be proportionate to need.
'There is a critical role for data and localised information in identifying the areas of most need, and ensuring those communities are able to access the funds required to rebalance, rebuild and realise the opportunities that good health brings.’
The report pointed to the introduction of a ‘wellbeing budget’ in New Zealand, which commits 5% of public spending to a broadly-defined public health drive.
This includes vocational training to improve employment opportunities and an emphasis on better housing, alongside conventional public health metrics such as mental health and children’s wellbeing.
A similar 5% figure would release £35bn for investment in England, the IPPR has calculated, to fund programmes that recognised the impact of education, training and employment.
Chairman of the Local Government Association’s community wellbeing board, Cllr David Fothergill, said: ‘It is vital we act now and drive forward programmes that prevent people becoming ill … including investing in various council services such as tackling unemployment, providing better housing and promoting access to green space.
'The upcoming Spending Review is an opportunity to realise this shared ambition with government, to level up the future health chances of our communities and build back better from the pandemic.’