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Health Inequalities

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:41 pm on 4th March 2020.

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Photo of Colleen Fletcher Colleen Fletcher Opposition Whip (Commons) 5:41 pm, 4th March 2020

It is a pleasure to follow Lee Anderson, whose area I know extremely well, and the fabulous maiden speeches on the Labour Benches, including from my hon. Friend Taiwo Owatemi, who spoke most warmly about my city and about her predecessor; I concur with her comments.

Since 2010, the Government have chosen to implement unfair, regressive economic and social policies that have widened the gap between rich and poor, holding individuals back and leaving entire communities behind. Those policy choices have ensured that the last decade has been marked by widening health inequalities and deteriorating health. In Coventry, where poverty and deprivation are entrenched in some communities, the progress made in the years up to 2010 in terms of improving people’s life chances, quality of life and life expectancy have been derailed by this Government.

Over the last decade, people in our most deprived communities have experienced rising levels of in-work poverty, food insecurity and food bank reliance. They have found it more difficult to access good-quality housing and secure, well-paid employment, while their incomes and living standards have declined significantly. Public services and welfare spending, which would once have alleviated some of those pressures, have been slashed, removing a crucial safety net. That has an impact on not only people’s health but their ability to make positive healthy choices, which ultimately increases their chances of premature mortality and morbidity.

The evidence shows that there is now a life expectancy gap of 11 years between men living in the most deprived areas of Coventry and men in the least deprived areas, and the gap is 10 years for women. That gap has increased by nearly one and a half years over a five-year period. Those living in the most deprived areas not only die much earlier than those in more affluent areas; they also live much longer in poor health. Data shows that poorer men in the city will experience 17 years fewer in good health than their more affluent counterparts, while poorer women can expect 18 fewer years in good health.

Sadly, that is not altogether surprising when we consider the fact that some of the most deprived areas in the city experience higher rates of economic inactivity, fuel poverty and air pollution, while having fewer green spaces, all of which impact people’s mental and physical health and wellbeing. Moreover, Coventry’s statistics on smoking, drinking and obesity show that 33% of adults who smoke live in the most deprived 10% of neighbourhoods; hospital admissions for alcohol-related illnesses and deaths are much higher than national rates; and overweight and obesity rates for children are higher than average.

We all know that tackling health inequalities is not a job that belongs exclusively to the NHS or to public health. To make a tangible difference, we have to improve our health and our health services, but we also have to look at our society as a whole and the conditions that determine our health. This is happening in Coventry, and we have had some notable successes, despite the poor hand we have been dealt by Government. For example, we have seen an increase in the proportion of children with good development by the end of reception year, and a reduction in the proportion of 16 to 18-year-olds not in education, employment or training. We have also achieved great results through employability support programmes, such as the Job Shop or Ambition Coventry, which work with people to help them secure employment.

However, if we hope to build on these successes, we need the support of Government. I hope the Minister will commit to funding public health, the NHS, local authorities and others properly, so that we can tackle the deep and entrenched health inequalities that exist in our communities and reduce the huge life expectancy gap between the richest and the poorest.