Health Inequalities: Office for Health Improvement and Disparities — [Derek Twigg in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:07 pm on 26th January 2022.

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Photo of Rebecca Long-Bailey Rebecca Long-Bailey Labour, Salford and Eccles 3:07 pm, 26th January 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Twigg. I thank my hon. Friend Peter Dowd for having secured this important debate, and for his eloquent and detailed speech. Salford is currently the 18th most deprived local authority area out of 317 in England, yet it is a tale of two cities: more than 30% of the city’s population reside in a highly deprived area, yet we are also home to some of the wealthiest suburbs in Greater Manchester. That disparity is shown starkly by our life expectancy. It has been improving over the past few decades, but there remains a gap between Salford and the rest of England of three years for males and two years for females.

Male residents living in the most affluent areas of Salford can expect to live more than 11 years longer than those in the most deprived areas, while females in the most affluent areas can expect to live seven years longer. I think we can all agree that that is morally wrong. Sadly, we have known for decades—from the Beveridge report to the Marmot report—that poor health, discrimination, housing, employment and income are inextricably linked, yet we have seen very little action in recent years. Of course, there was a burst of radical policy development in the late 1940s, with the creation of the welfare state and the NHS, for example, and we saw policy approaches in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but since then we have lacked a comprehensive health inequality strategy. What is worse is that austerity has resulted in the unravelling of many of the positive policies put in place and the undermining of the remaining ones.

The creation in October 2021 of the new Office for Health Improvement and Disparities and the announcement of a new cross-Government agenda to track the wider determinants of health and to reduce disparities were met with cautious optimism. However, since the creation of the OHID, there has been little information on what it will actually do or what it has done so far. Will the Minister clearly set out how the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities will reduce health inequalities? Indeed, what is the new cross-Government agenda? Can she confirm that the Health Promotion Taskforce will be given a remit to act outside of the Department of Health and Social Care, to address the true socioeconomic causes of poor health? Finally, can she set out how OHID will work with the new integrated care systems, and how it will support them to address health inequalities in their area?

As the Inequalities in Health Alliance states:

“If we are to prevent ill health in the first place, we need to take action on issues such as poor housing, food quality, communities and place, employment, racism and discrimination, transport and air pollution. All parts of government and public services need to adopt reducing health inequality as a priority.”

Of course, I fear that the Government will not do that. It would show that an active state that supports communities, industry and workers to increase living standards for all within a new, democratic economy is the only way to do this properly, and that goes against everything the Government believe in. None the less, I hope that the Minister will at least address some of the questions I have asked today.