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Health Inequalities

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:53 pm on 4th March 2020.

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Photo of Philippa Whitford Philippa Whitford Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Health and Social Care), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union) 4:53 pm, 4th March 2020

I thank the hon. Member for that recognition. The Scottish Government are spending more than £100 million every year in mitigating some of these cuts—they pay the bedroom tax and they have set up the Scottish welfare crisis fund—but that is money that should be going into devolved areas, not patching up austerity decisions here; it is not the role of the Scottish Parliament just to mitigate.

Public health in England has been cut by £850 million—again, the greatest cuts to the poorest areas—and it is exactly the same with future planned cuts. This has led to cuts in smoking cessation projects. There is no point standing up and talking about the importance of stopping smoking—we all know that. People who have smoked for decades need help to stop and those services are critical. We have also seen cuts to drugs and alcohol projects and to sexual health projects, and all those have an impact on the poorest people.

The Minister, who is no longer in her place, might have listened to Dame Carol at the drugs summit in Glasgow but, sadly, the Minister for Crime and Policing, Kit Malthouse, did not. He came to Glasgow, made his speech and then left before all the expert evidence was given. We also hear of a social care gap across England of over £6 billion. Again, that affects women if they have to give up work to look after elderly relatives or disabled children. This rolling back of the state has affected the social determinants and increased health inequalities. Child poverty has increased, as we have heard, with 4 million children affected, and 1,000 Sure Start centres have been closed. Education funding is down. There is a housing crisis and therefore a rise in homelessness. People with insufficient funds to afford a healthy life are depending on food banks, and deprived communities are simply losing hope.

Poverty is simply the biggest driver of ill health and has the biggest individual impact on life expectancy. The increase in life expectancy in England has stalled for the first time in 120 years—the first time since 1900. The gap between the most and least deprived has widened: the gap is now almost 10 years for women and the life expectancy of some women in areas of the north-east of England has dropped by almost a year.