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Archive for the ‘Health Inequalities’ Category

By Dr Uy Hoang, Chair of the FPH Film Special Interest Group

Following the announcement of a General Election, FPH called for the next Government to think more about our long term health, embed health in all policies, and work with people and communities to focus on preventing ill health and easing pressure on our overburdened NHS.

At FPH’s Annual Conference in Telford (20-21 June), FPH’s Film Special Interest Group (SIG) will bring together public health specialists, academics, and film makers to discuss the role that film can play in helping policy makers locally and nationally perform the type of joined-up thinking that health in all policies demands. We’d love for you to join us in Telford as we screen critically acclaimed films, hear from expert panels of film makers and public health professionals, and open to the floor for wider discussion and debate.

Headlining the FPH Annual Conference will be a screening of I, Daniel Blake, the winner of the 2016 Palme d’Or Cannes award and the latest film from legendary director Ken Loach. The film highlights many issues that are in the fore of this election campaign, including how to best support people with complex health and social needs.

With Brexit and the impact of economic migration likely to dominate this election cycle, we will use film to shine a light on a less discussed aspect of the movement of people- human trafficking- to ensure that that story is not missing from the dominant narrative surrounding immigration. We will screen the award winning film Slaved, followed by a debate with representatives from the police force, public health, and NGOs working within the field. The film brings to life the personal stories behind the public health statistics, shows what our public health workforce is contributing now to tackle these issues, and demonstrates how relevant a public health perspective will be to the next Government as it grapples with these complex problems.

Those of you interested in prevention will find the screening of Up for Air particularly engaging. This award winning documentary follows Jerry Cahill, a 60-year old pole-vaulting coach battling cystic fibrosis. Due to his vigorous exercise regime, Jerry is now 20 years past his expected life expectancy and is one of the oldest living patients with the genetic disease. This film is a powerful and stark example of the benefits of exercise, especially for those living with a chronic disease.

The Global Violence Prevention SIG will highlight the work of public health practitioners, especially women on the front lines of care delivery, with a screening of the film Grace Under Fire. The film follows the story of Dr Grace Kodindo, a leading reproductive health advocate and champion of women’s rights, as she works to expose the horrific toll of the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo and rebuild health services for women and children.

As you can see we have a full and compelling programme. We hope you will join us for our ‘film festival’ and contribute to the debate.

For details of the conference and to register please visit http://www.fph.org.uk/fph_annual_conference_and_public_health_expo_2017

For FPH’s election briefing please click here

If you are interested in joining the FPH PH SIG or have any suggestions for films that we could screen, please contact Policy@fph.org.uk

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By Melisa Campbell MFPH, Research Fellow in Public Health, (Out of Programme: SpR Public Health [St4]), Department of Public Health and Policy, University of Liverpool

Melisa Campbell

Telling the story of child inequalities in health and care using big data research has been my passion for the last six months of my Health Education England Academic Fellowship, a focus fuelled by my personal working experiences within public health departments and healthcare systems.

As many of us will be welcoming spring and making plans for the summer, I am at the ‘show how’ phase and planning for my pending PhD application, which builds firmly upon my out of programme academic experience at the Farr Institute and the Department of Public Health and Policy at the University of Liverpool.

During my fellowship so far, I have been fortunate enough to share my work at the recent Lancet Public Health Conference (2016) Swansea and the Society for Social Medicine (SSM) Conference 2016.  I am also currently drafting further papers with colleagues from University of Liverpool, University of Nottingham and University College London.

The first months of the fellowship were quickly consumed by intense technical training, making connections within and outside the university and refining my understanding of theories and methodologies necessary to deliver my proposal, particularly with relation to health inequalities and statistical methods.

On-going learning has appropriately defined my fellowship and considerably expanded my skills, knowledge and practice of research methods including statistical methods for regression analysis, dealing with missing data and longitudinal data. I’ve been learning to undertake these analyses in STATA, and also in R, which is an open source statistical platform that anyone can use for free, and so gaining transferable skills for public health service practice.

Much of my work has been exploring childhood social inequalities using the Millennium Cohort Study data – a nationally representative birth cohort of 19,000 children born at the turn of this century. Within this, I have maintained a special interest in childhood unintentional injuries, but my professional growth from this experience has facilitated a greater breadth of topics relating to child inequalities pertaining to paediatric hospital admissions, smoking initiation and school bullying, drawing on the expertise in the Farr Institute.

This has already been a rewarding experience and I look forward to making the most of my remaining time. My contact details, previous and when ready information on my current and future work can be found at: University of Liverpool: Melisa Campbell

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By Margaret Whitehead

David Player led the Health Education Council in the 1980s. On April 2 he celebrated his 90th birthday in Edinburgh

I first met David Player in the mid-1970s, when I took up my first public health research job in the Scottish Health Education Unit (SHEU) in Edinburgh, where David was Director. At the time, David had this great idea: to pump-prime academic health promotion by funding academic lectureships in the various relevant disciplines in Scottish universities. As this was a novel strategy at the time, a range of committees had to be convinced, and David taught me how to put a compelling case with different messages for different interest groups. He triumphed in the end, and the fruits of his far-sighted vision can still be seen today, not least in the leaders of public health research that his initiative produced.

One of the first lessons that working under David’s directorship taught me was that everything about public health is political – even the seemingly most innocuous subjects could catch you out. One of my very first tasks was to produce a factual guide to family-planning services in Scotland, which I never dreamt anyone could object to. I was wrong. Somehow it came to the attention of the Scottish health minister with a strongly Catholic constituency in Glasgow, and, before I knew it, objections were being raised and outrage was being expressed. This was the sort of challenge that David cheerfully faced every day – be it about sugar, alcohol or tobacco – as he waged war with what he termed “the anti-health forces”.

It was David’s longstanding passion about unemployment and health and inequalities, however, that shone through for me. David moved from SHEU in the 1980s to take up the post of Director General of the then Health Education Council (HEC). By then I was a freelance researcher and in January 1986, David commissioned me to update the evidence that had accumulated since the publication of the Black Report in 1980 and assess the progress made on the report’s 37 recommendations. My report, entitled The Health Divide, was eventually published in March 1987 as an HEC occasional report, one week before the HEC was disbanded. David did two politically astute things when he commissioned the report: he set up an informal panel of distinguished scientific advisors, including three of the original members of the Black Report working group, and he signed over copyright of The Health Divide to me (as opposed to the commissioning body, HEC), thereby ensuring that the report would be published irrespective of what happened to the HEC.

As the launch date drew nearer, Peter Townsend, a scientific advisor for the report and one of the authors of the original Black Report, suggested that the HEC needed to call a press briefing, backed up by the scientific advisors because, in Peter’s memorable words:

“We can’t let Margaret face the flak alone.”

At the time I was young and so naïve that I hadn’t realised that there would be any flak!  How wrong I was again. After we had all travelled to London on the appointed day, the Chairman of the HEC decided to cancel the press briefing at the HEC offices an hour before it was due to begin. He was quoted in the Independent as saying that The Health Divide was “political dynamite in an election year” and so it was necessary to postpone the press briefing.  Members of the panel, who had already assembled, decided to proceed with the press briefing at the nearby offices of the Disability Alliance – David and his staff were instructed not to attend and so had to watch from the sidelines as the story unfolded. And what a story it turned out to be. As we made our way towards the Disability Alliance in Soho, journalists who were hurrying towards the HEC came across the procession going the other way and joined in behind – a Pied Piper effect. The press, TV and radio swung into action, spurred on by the hint that the report had been suppressed, possibly by the intervention of the department or even government ministers. The fact that this was remarkably similar to the treatment that the Black Report received seven years earlier was not lost on the media. The result was a public relations triumph for health inequalities advocacy (or a public relations disaster for the Chair of the HEC and government).

A health journalist, Peter Davies, recalled how a few days after the event, David Player told him gleefully: “It is going like hot cakes. They were queuing outside in New Oxford Street. We have a bestseller on our hands.” (1).

We had indeed – publishers started queuing up to publish The Health Divide, and it was eventually published in one volume with The Black Report by Penguin and became a non-fiction bestseller (2)

In the hectic aftermath of the press conference, the House of Lords requested copies for all the members as they prepared to debate the NHS, and a re-print had to be hastily prepared. It was, however, when a request for a copy of The Health Divide from Margaret Thatcher’s office landed on David’s desk that things became scary. David told a witness seminar at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine that, as he signed the complements slip to the PM, “It felt like I was signing my own death warrant.” (3).

The Times fanned that particular flame, by suggesting that the report was a “devastating final salvo from David Player to the government” on the eve of the disbandment of the HEC. That did David a great injustice – at the time he commissioned The Health Divide, over a year earlier, there was no inkling that the HEC would be disbanded, or that the Government would call a snap election, timed not long after the eventual publication.
It meant, however, that David did lose his job with the closure of the HEC and a very difficult time ensued for him. When I think of David during this episode and the battles he fought before and after it, I think of his courage in the true spirt of the great public health pioneers, mixed with his great Glaswegian sense of humour. An unstoppable combination!

1.    Davies P.  Review. BMJ 2003; 326: 169.
2.    Inequalities in Health: the Black Report edited by Peter Townsend and Nick Davidson and The Health Divide by Margaret Whitehead. 2nd Edition. Harmondsworth: Penguin. 1992.
3.    Berridge V, Blume S. (eds) Poor health: social inequality before and after the Black Report. Report of a Witness Seminar.   London: Frank Cass &Co Ltd. 2003.

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By Ben Barr, Senior Lecturer in Applied Public Health Research, University of Liverpool, and Lee Bentley, Research Associate, University of Liverpool

The Chancellor of the Exchequer is due to deliver this year’s Budget on Wednesday. It is imperative that he provides additional financial support for disabled people affected by the planned cuts to Employment Support Allowance (ESA) – or risk further widening the disability–poverty gap.

One in three working age disabled people are living in poverty. Their risk of poverty is one and a half times greater than for people without a disability. The government’s strategy, however, for improving the lives of disabled people, focuses almost exclusively on the disability-employment gap rather than this disability-poverty gap (1). It is true that the high risk of poverty amongst disabled people is largely because they are less likely to be in work and supporting people into employment is an important strategy for reducing poverty. Welfare benefits, however, also play a crucial role in preventing poverty by limiting the loss of income people experience when they can’t work due to disability.

People who have lost their jobs because of a disability are likely to be out of work for longer than people who become unemployed. For this reason, disability benefits have generally been set at a higher level than unemployment benefits. From April, this will no longer be the case. The government is reducing the level of ESA for disabled people who are assessed as being currently unable to work but potentially capable of work at some time in the future. The benefit will be reduced by 30% to £73 a week – the same level as unemployment benefits. But whilst 60% of new claimants of unemployment benefits will move off the benefit within six months, 60% of people on ESA will still be claiming this benefit two years later (2). This means that many people out of work because of a disability will have to survive for long periods of time without an adequate income.

Levels of poverty are already very high amongst people out of work with a disability and have been increasing since 2010, particularly amongst people who have a low level of education – the group most reliant on disability benefits (see Figure 1). Cutting these benefits will exacerbate this adverse trend.

Percentage of people with disability in poverty

FIGURE 1: % of people with a disability in poverty, aged 16-64, between 2007 and 2014, by employment status and educational level 

The government argues that reducing these benefit levels will incentivise disabled people to stay in or return to work (3), but there is little evidence to support this assumption (4), and some that suggests it may reduce their employment chances (2). Strategies to reduce the disability-employment gap over recent decades have increasingly focused on more stringent assessment criteria for disability benefits, reduced payment levels and requiring claimants to do more to prepare for work or risk losing their benefits (5, 6, 7). These strategies have had little impact on the employment of people with disabilities (8). It remains to be seen whether the government’s new strategy to halve the disability employment gap will be any more successful (1).

Even if the government’s strategy does improve the employment of disabled people, it is likely this will disproportionally benefit disabled people with greater skills and education (9, 10). The planned cuts in ESA will increase the risk of poverty for the most disadvantaged disabled people who remain out of work, and this may increase the disability-poverty gap.

Increasing poverty amongst people out of work with disabilities will adversely affect their health and increase health inequalities. We know that poverty damages peoples’ health, and adequate welfare benefits for people who can’t work can reduce these effects (11). We have seen that in recent years inequalities in health are increasing (12) in part due to disability benefit reforms (13). The severe cut planned by the government will further exacerbate these inequalities, potentially increasing levels of disability.

1    Great Britain, Department for Work and Pensions, Great Britain, Department of Health. Improving Lives: The Work, Health and Disability Green Paper. 2016 (accessed March 2, 2017).
2    Work and Pensions Committee. Disability employment gap. London: House of Commons, 2017 (accessed March 2, 2017).
3    Kenedy S, Murphy C, Keen K, Bate A. Abolition of the ESA Work- Related Activity Component. House Commons Libr Brief Pap 2017.
4    Barr B, Clayton S, Whitehead M, et al. To what extent have relaxed eligibility requirements and increased generosity of disability benefits acted as disincentives for employment? A systematic review of evidence from countries with well-developed welfare systems. J Epidemiol Community Health 2010; 64: 1106–14.
5    Watts B, Fitzpatrick S, Bramley G, Watkins D. WELFARE SANCTIONS AND CONDITIONALITY IN THE UK. York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 2015.
6    Banks J, Emmerson C, Tetlow GC. Effect of Pensions and Disability Benefits on Retirement in the UK. National Bureau of Economic Research, 2014 (accessed Sept 26, 2015).
7    Baumberg B, Warren J, Garthwaite K, Bambra C. Rethinking the Work Capability Assessment. London: Demos, 2015.
8    Mirza-Davies J, Brown J. Key statistics on people with disabilities in employment. House Commons Libr Brief Pap 2016; 7540.
9    Burstrom B, Nylen L, Clayton S, Whitehead M. How equitable is vocational rehabilitation in Sweden? A review of evidence on the implementation of a national policy framework. Disabil Rehabil 2011; 33: 453–66.
10    Clayton S, Bambra C, Gosling R, Povall S, Misso K, Whitehead M. Assembling the evidence jigsaw: insights from a systematic review of UK studies of individual-focused return to work initiatives for disabled and long-term ill people. BMC Public Health 2011; 11: 170.
11    Cooper K, Stewart K. Does money in adulthood affect adult outcomes? York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 2015 (accessed July 30, 2015).
12    Barr B, Kinderman P, Whitehead M. Trends in mental health inequalities in England during a period of recession, austerity and welfare reform 2004 to 2013. Soc Sci Med 2015; 147: 324–31.
13    Barr B, Taylor-Robinson D, Stuckler D, Loopstra R, Reeves A, Whitehead M. ‘First, do no harm’: are disability assessments associated with adverse trends in mental health? A longitudinal ecological study. J Epidemiol Community Health 2015; : jech-2015-206209.

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By Dr Nadeem Hasan

The importance of effective advocacy to achieving public health goals cannot be overstated.
Every day policies and regulations that affect health outcomes for better or worse are put on the agenda and kept off the agenda; discussed and debated; approved and rejected.

Many, if not most of these relate primarily to non-health sectors, such as food and beverages, energy and infrastructure, and alcohol and tobacco. But their impact on health outcomes is very real: all the stop-smoking programmes in the world can’t match the impact of the ban on advertising and smoking in public places on smoking prevalence; and there’s no amount of spending on childhood obesity programmes that can make up for the regulatory vacuum in this area.

Looking more broadly, policy decisions that affect income inequality, carbon emissions, and military action all have serious consequences for health across the world.

If we’re serious about prevention, we need to be serious about advocacy.
Where profits can be affected (almost everywhere), industry lobbyists seek to influence the regulatory environment in their favour. And they are very good at it. In principle, this is quite right – those affected by policy and regulatory shifts should indeed be able to make representations and provide additional evidence to support the decision-making process – and this includes relevant industry actors.
Representing the interests of everybody else is where advocacy organisations come in – acting as sort of ‘civil society lobbyists’ to balance out the discussion – advocating on behalf of the health, wellbeing, and broader concerns of the general population. Notably, this isn’t always an ‘us vs. them’ relationship: health insurance companies are routinely allies on advocating for lower drug prices; and renewable energy companies are more than happy to work with advocacy organisations on climate change regulation.

Put this way, it might sound like a fair playing field, with decision-makers receiving submissions from a range of groups and making balanced decisions to maximise the benefits to all parties. The reality of course is quite different, and much, much messier.
In 2014, there were an estimated 30,000 industry lobbyists in Brussels alone, falling just short of the 31,000 employees for the whole European Commission.

Civil society pockets are not deep enough to come close to matching this (or the salaries of lobbyists), and civil society advocacy and pressure groups are few and far between. Transparency falls short of the ideal, and the revolving door between policy-making and industry remains alive and well. Most recently the former President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso was appointed Chairman of Goldman Sachs International, a move that has been widely criticised.
Advocacy organisations, then, have a difficult task – but one where even small successes can have far-reaching benefits for public health.
The European Public Health Alliance (EPHA), based in Brussels, is one such advocacy organisation. They bring together a range of health-related NGOs to advocate for better public health in Europe, working across five campaign areas: antimicrobial resistance; food, drink and agriculture; healthy economic policy; universal access and affordable medicines; and trade for health (and specifically the EU-US free trade agreement – TTIP – and the EU-Canada free trade agreement – CETA). Earlier this year, they hosted myself and another registrar in a pilot placement to understand health advocacy at the European level and to develop skills in this area.
So how to sum up the placement?
Invaluable. EPHA track the policy process for each one of their campaign areas and engage at every possible point. They attend every meeting at the European Parliament and the European Commission on these areas and make oral contributions at every opportunity; they submit comprehensive written responses to every relevant consultation; they engage on a daily basis with journalists to publicise their positions and build public support; they engage like-minded actors in the public, private, and not-for-profit sectors on a case-by-case basis to coordinate action; and they do all of this with just a handful of relatively young staff and interns.

They were very welcoming in bringing us into the whole process, allowing me to engage in every one of these steps – from writing position papers and consultation responses to making oral contributions at the European Commission and Parliament on their behalf.
Notably, EPHA also position themselves as an advocacy agency that actors from across the spectrum can engage with – in contrast to, for example, much more vocal organisations such as Greenpeace.

By way of example, the area that I was working on was TTIP. Whilst there are a raft of advocacy organisations across Europe (and the USA) that reject TTIP outright, EPHA’s

approach is to work through the whole agreement and advocate for the protection of public health on a section-by-section basis without rejecting the whole deal. With the European Commission politically committed to getting a deal, this makes EPHA one of the few organisations they can meaningfully engage with on this issue (though recent developments have called into question the likelihood of getting a deal in the near future).

This isn’t to say that their approach is ‘superior’ – every actor plays a particular role, with the more intransigent organisations key in shifting public opinion and providing the space for actors such as EPHA to engage in more balanced discussions. This means that they are invited to closed-door sessions with only a handful of actors, and have much more influence on the process than they otherwise would.
One of the challenges from a ‘public health professional’ perspective was that effective advocacy sometimes involves taking – shall we say – a less balanced view than we would normally as technical experts. From an ethical perspective, this raises a number of questions around whether the ends justify the means. I witnessed first-hand industry lobbyists making quite outrageous claims, including a rather undignified moment where I coughed up half my glass of water in a large auditorium at the European Commission when it was submitted that ‘alcohol is in no way an unhealthy commodity’ .

In a world where climate change denial is alive and well despite the most overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the ‘best’ approach to making our points is perhaps not so easy to discern.
And what of the relevance to the UK, particularly as we now start closing our doors to the EU in a bid to be a more open, global-facing country?
Whether or not the UK is a member, the EU remains a powerful actor that can influence policies related to public health both for its own citizens (which will still number ~450m after the UK leaves), and globally. As a close neighbour, EU regulations will have a strong bearing on public health in the UK too, and so engaging in advocacy at this level will continue to be an effective approach to improving UK public health.

This is true for everything from environmental regulations and air pollution, to pharmaceutical regulations and drug pricing and safety.
Within the UK, whilst it’s true that our policy-making process is not as amenable to advocacy as at the EU level (or remotely as civilised), effective advocacy still has huge potential to improve public health. We have not done well recently, with a watered-down childhood obesity strategy, no resistance to an unfunded ‘7-day’ NHS (that differs from the 7-day NHS that has existed since 1948 in some undefined way), and year-on-year increases in the use of food banks without any policy response (to name just three areas).

At the local level, there are a cornucopia of opportunities for advocacy to improve health, from influencing urban planning (fast food outlets close to schools, street design, cycling lanes) to advocacy around shifting public perceptions e.g. from opposing to welcoming refugees into local communities.
In this context, strengthening the advocacy skills of the UK public health workforce through engaging with and learning from experienced actors such as EPHA should be pursued with vigour – we can ill afford the alternative.

Dr Nadeem Hasan is a Specialty Registrar in Public Health

 

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vitamin-d

By Dr Amrita Jesurasa

Ever since our most ancient ancestors left Africa to populate the rest of the world the appearance of their descendants has changed.

Height, facial features, hair type, body size and shape, and invisible genes that can protect from or predispose to disease have developed and differentiated racial groups. But the most profound (and superficial) change has to be in the colour of our skin as people migrated and settled around the world.

Skin colour forms a strong part of our physical and social identity, at times unifying people but more distressingly, causing division. The legacy of this evolutionary change has left its scars on human history in the last few hundred years and continues to cause tension in the present. Ethnic inequalities in health are well recognised and yet we perhaps fail to recognise the true message from history: why did skin colour change?

Current theory suggests that this phenomenon arose as a result of our need for vitamin D. As our early ancestors migrated to northern latitudes, they experienced the severe consequences of vitamin D deficiency. These included bone deformities that affected their ability to walk, breathe and – crucially – to give birth (the latter the result of changes to the female pelvis).

In Europe, natural selection began to favour lighter skin that allowed ultraviolet radiation to be more readily absorbed, vitamin D to be synthesised and ultimately our species to survive in Europe and other northern climes.

Fast-forward to the 21st century and rapid technological advances have transformed the way we live. Some of these developments, including air travel, have facilitated evolutionary shortcuts, enabling the humans of today to live in environments that are totally different to that of even the previous generation. But other advances have affected the behaviour of us all by encouraging a more indoor lifestyle than that of our ancestors, creating fear of the adverse effects of the sun and altering our dietary habits.

This perfect storm has allowed vitamin D deficiency to become a population-wide issue, but one which has the greatest impact on those with darker skin. The irony is that this disproportionate effect within the population marginalises the issue of vitamin D deficiency, creating an ethnicity-related health inequality.

To raise the profile of vitamin D deficiency, universal issues need to be addressed and universal solutions provided. While improving access to vitamin D supplements must be part of this strategy, there are worrying common pitfalls associated with an exclusively medical approach.

Instead, a simple message may resonate more with both the public and policy-makers. This could mean promoting a basic principle that “like plants, we need food, water and sunshine to thrive”. With a more holistic approach we can relate prevention of vitamin D deficiency to other important and well-recognised public health concerns, thereby raising the priority of this historically important issue.

  • Dr Jesurasa is a Specialty Registrar in Public Health Medicine/ Honorary Clinical Lecturer in Public Health, University of Sheffield

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by Paul Southon

  • Public Health Development Manager
  • UK Healthy Cities Network Local Coordinator

Welfare reform is a reality. Reviews of the likely health impacts suggest that they will be significant, are starting now and will last for a generation. (1) (2)

Work to quantify the financial implications for local areas shows that the financial impact will be disproportionately felt by the areas with the largest health inequalities. (3) There is also evidence that the impacts on already disadvantaged sections of communities – such as disabled people, black and minority ethnic groups and women – will be disproportionate. (4) (5)

All of this is happening at a time of major reductions in budgets and staffing across the public sector which limits the local ability to respond. This has been described as a perfect storm for local government. It will also have significant impacts across health services.

Over the longer term there is likely to be an increase in mental health problems, non-communicable diseases and related disabilities which will be felt across the health and social care system. Increasing poverty, especially child poverty, will have long term and generational impacts on child development, health outcomes and life expectancy.

GPs are reporting an increase in people with mental health problems. They are also reporting increasing numbers of requests for support with appeals against Work Capability Assessment decisions and the changes to disability benefits.

Currently the most visible part of the welfare reforms is the spare room subsidy or ‘bedroom tax’. Families on housing benefit who are defined as having extra bedrooms suffer a financial penalty. There is a severe shortage of available smaller properties for these families to move into. Their options are to move into the private rented sector, which may be more expensive, or stay where they are with a reduced income. Families are also moving to areas with lower rents, losing their social and support networks.

Councils are already reporting increases in rent arrears.(6)It is likely that this will lead to increased stress and family tensions, which could be exacerbated by the loss of social and support networks. A concern is that these families will resort to using alternative lenders, such as pay day loans, to cover shortfalls. One payday loan company has recently increased its typical APR to 5,835%.

For families experiencing poverty food becomes a major problem, both in access to enough food and in the quality of the food available. The rapid rise in food banks is testament to the difficulty families have in buying food. (7)

They also have to rely on the cheapest food which is often poor in nutrition and high in fats, including trans-fats. With the current food environment eating healthily is not a cheap option.

So, welfare reform is a reality. The evidence suggests that it is likely to have a major negative impact on public health and inequalities. It is now time to ask the key question: What can local areas do about it and what is the role of public health?

Much of the focus in councils has been on setting up the local systems to manage what were previously national benefit systems, the social and crisis fund payments and council tax benefits. Now these are operational the wider impacts of the reforms are being considered.

Many councils are mapping the local impact of welfare reforms to better understand the local challenges. (8) However, the scope to tackle these challenges at a local level is limited.

One of the stated aims of the welfare reforms is to encourage people into work. This is a laudable aim. Supporting someone into good quality work is a major public health win. The main way to reduce the numbers of people reliant on benefits will be to increase local employment.

However, increasing local employment is challenging in the areas where welfare reform will have the largest impact. Many of these areas have poor levels of educational attainment. Much of the available employment is low paid and insecure. A recent report estimates the local financial impact.

For example, Sandwell will lose around £119 million from the economy each year resulting in less money spent within the local economy, affecting local business and resulting in fewer local jobs.

With the limited scope for minimising the impacts of welfare reform at a local level it is essential that the most is made of local resources. This will need joined up working across councils, health, voluntary and community sectors and local businesses.

Public health has a role in raising awareness of the changes and the health impacts across all parts of the council and partners. It can also support the mapping and analysis of local impact, helping identify the local priorities for action and ensuring local plans are evidence based and monitored effectively.

Welfare reform is here, it comes with a real risk of significant negative impacts on health and inequalities at both local and national levels. Public health in councils needs to recognise this and ensure that it is fully involved in local efforts to minimise these impacts. At a regional and national level public health must lobby for changes to policy to protect population health and the disproportionate effects on the most vulnerable.

(1)Institute of Health Equity (2012). The impact of the economic downturn and policy changes on health inequalities in London.

(3) Beatty C, Fothergill S. Hitting the poorest places hardest: the local and regional impact of welfare reform. Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research. 2013

(4) Oxfam GB. (2010) A gender perspective on 21st century welfare reform.

(5) Welsh Government. (2013) Analysing the impact of the UK Government’s welfare reforms in Wales – Stage 3 analysis.

(6) Inside Housing (2013) Rent arrears up in wake of bedroom tax.

(7) Trussel Trust (2013) Increasing numbers turning to food banks since April’s welfare reforms.

(8) Sandwell Trends: Welfare Reform Topic Page (2013).

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