People who live in the most deprived areas of England are more likely to suffer chronic conditions that prevent them from working, costing the UK economy £29.8bn in lost productivity.
A report that highlights the health inequalities faced by people in “left behind” neighbourhoods (LBNs) finds that the most deprived areas face a higher prevalence of 15 of the most common health conditions, compared with other deprived areas and England as a whole. These conditions included high blood pressure, obesity and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
“Left behind” neighbourhoods feature in the most deprived 10% of areas, determined by their levels of physical and digital connectivity, community engagement and voluntary work, and civic assets such as parks and places for communities to meet.
The proportion of people out of work due to ill health these areas is almost twice the national average, with a higher prevalence of people claiming disability and sickness benefits.
They are also more likely to be out of work due to mental health conditions, with 4.4% claiming incapacity benefits due to mental health conditions compared with 2.3% across England.
The Overcoming Health Inequalities report claims that those who are in employment in these areas work more hours on average than those in the rest of England, and they tend to work in more manual jobs.
The report, from research body the Northern Health Science Alliance and the All-Parliamentary Party Group for left behind neighbourhoods, says that in order to level up health outcomes across England, more funding is needed for targeted health programmes and social infrastructure.
It also recommends that community public health budgets are safeguarded so that action to reduce the backlog in NHS care does not undermine efforts to tackle the root causes of ill-health.
Professor Clare Bambra, professor of public health at the University of Newcastle, said: “Levelling up needs to urgently focus on health inequalities by addressing the unequal conditions in which we live, work and age. For too long, a lack of investment in key services has meant that more deprived, left behind neighbourhoods – particularly in the north – have suffered disproportionately.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has worsened these inequalities and it will cast a long shadow across our future health and economic prosperity as a country unless we act now.”
The report finds that:
- People in left behind neighbourhoods are more likely to self-report their health as “bad” or “very bad” – 9.1% compared to 8.1% in other deprived areas and 5.5% in England as a whole.
- 14.9% in LBNs have high blood pressure (14.0% nationally); 12.9% are obese (9.8%); 12% have depression (9.9%); 6.3% have asthma (5.9%) and 3% have COPD (1.9%).
- People in LBNs were 46% more likely to die of Covid-19 than people in the rest of England in March 2020 to March 2021.
- LBNs have above average rates of deaths from respiratory diseases (155 per 100,000) and cancer (139.2 per 100,000) compared with the national average (104.8 and 102.4 per 100,000, respectively)
- People in LBNs have higher rates of smoking, drinking and poor diet. Some 34.9% of adults smoke in LBNs compared with 22.2% across England.
MP Paul Howell, co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for left behind neighbourhoods said: “The findings from this report are clear, people living in left behind neighbourhoods are overall worse off when it comes to health and something needs to change.
“It is essential we take the action needed to make sure people living in these neighbourhoods do not continue to suffer from poor health so that they can reach their full potential and have the same opportunities as those living elsewhere, now and in the future.”