Health Inequalities

Health and Social Care – in the House of Commons at on 23 April 2024.

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Photo of Debbie Abrahams Debbie Abrahams Labour, Oldham East and Saddleworth

What steps she is taking to tackle health inequalities.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

We are committed to levelling up health, narrowing the gap in healthy life expectancy by 2030, and increasing healthy life expectancy by five years by 2035. That aligns with our mission to reform our health and care system to be faster, simpler and fairer.

Photo of Debbie Abrahams Debbie Abrahams Labour, Oldham East and Saddleworth

In January, Professor Sir Michael Marmot published “Health Inequalities, Lives Cut Short”, which confirmed that between 2011 and 2019, driven by political choices, 1 million people in 90% of areas in England lived shorter lives than they should. The inequalities were amplified by Covid. These lives cut short are matched by shorter lives in good health. Does the Secretary of State believe in evidence-based health? If so, does she accept the overwhelming evidence that current levels of ill health reflect 14 years of escalating poverty, services that have been run into the ground, including the NHS, and the Government’s failure to do what they promised in 2019: level up?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

No, I do not, and I would point to the legislation that the Government brought forward last week, which is the largest and most significant public health reform that we can make to help the hon. Member’s constituents and those in other parts of the country who face inequalities. We know that smoking rates are disproportionately higher in poorer communities, which is one of the many reasons why we introduced such landmark legislation. It is just a shame that the Labour party felt that they had to whip their Members to get them to vote for it.

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Conservative, Chipping Barnet

Will the Secretary of State support Breast Cancer Now’s campaign to improve the uptake of breast cancer screening, especially among women in minority ethnic communities, because that is a good way to tackle health inequalities?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

I completely agree. Further on ethnicity and inequalities, I have not only prioritised women’s health as Secretary of State, but announced £50 million of research into maternity disparities for women of colour, given the worrying statistics associated with that. I have also responded to calls from brave constituents, put forward by hon. Members on both sides of the House, for further research into lobular breast cancer, because although it is responsible for 15% of diagnoses, we do not have the research or evidence to help women who are affected by it.

Photo of Imran Hussain Imran Hussain Labour, Bradford East

The reality is that someone living in the inner city in the Bradford district is likely to live 20 years less than those living in the more affluent parts of the region. That has not just happened; it is a result of 14 years of underinvestment in and cuts to not only our NHS, but our community services. Will the Secretary of State just admit that the Government frankly could not care less about people from places such as Bradford, because otherwise they would have accepted my levelling-up bid, which would have addressed this injustice at its core?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

I am so glad that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned levelling up, because presumably he will know from his bid that the 12 levelling-up missions are mutually reinforcing. Conservative Members take the approach that in order to help people with their health—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman is shouting at me. I thought that this answer would be important to his constituents.

Levelling up is not just about health. It is about the impact of education, housing and other matters in our environment, which is why in the forthcoming major conditions strategy we will tie together the conditions that have the most impact on a healthy life. We will draw together a cross-Government strategy to help people who are living with those conditions to live longer but also healthier lives.

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel Conservative, Witham

The Health Secretary will know about the health inequalities across the east of England, including in Maldon district, which will only be made worse if the NHS’s plans to close St Peter’s Hospital in Maldon proceed. Does she agree that the levelling-up funding that has been made available to Maldon District Council should be prioritised to facilitate investment in new localised health services, so that those inequalities can be tackled?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

My right hon. Friend makes an important point. The purpose of the levelling-up fund is to help local areas to address what they need locally, rather than respond to diktat from central London. I encourage her to work closely, as I know she will, with local agencies, the council and others making those important decisions, so that their levelling-up announcements include health, as an integral part of her mission to improve the lives of her constituents.

Photo of Andrew Gwynne Andrew Gwynne Shadow Minister (Social Care)

Back in the real world, the record of the last Labour Government is that we increased life expectancy by three years. Under this Government, it has stalled for the first time in a century, with people in Blackpool, for example, expected to live four and a half years less than the national average. Is the Secretary of State proud of this shocking record, or will people have to wait to elect Chris Webb in Blackpool South and a Labour Government at Westminster to finally turn the tide on health inequalities?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

As someone who is proud to have gone to school in Blackpool, I do not need a lecture from the hon. Gentleman about what Labour has done to the town centre, or about the important work that Conservatives in Lancashire are doing to help communities such as Blackpool. On Labour’s record, I gently point out, as I try to do at every orals, that the record of the Labour-run NHS in Wales is lamentable. People are almost twice as likely to be waiting for treatment in the Labour-run NHS in Wales. That is not a record of which to be proud.