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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:24 pm on 26th January 2022.

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Photo of Stephanie Peacock Stephanie Peacock Shadow Minister (Defence) 3:24 pm, 26th January 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Twigg. I congratulate my hon. Friend Peter Dowd on securing this important debate. When the Government launched the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities, renamed from the Office for Health Promotion, the Secretary of State said that it was not just a name change but

“a statement of intent—a driving mission to ‘level up’ health and ensure everyone has the chance to live happy and healthy lives.”

That is a mission that I sincerely hope all his Cabinet colleagues will commit to truly delivering on. The issue goes to the heart of the inequalities in communities such as mine. Sadly, it is an issue that has only got worse over the last decade. In the Government’s most recent national deprivation data, Barnsley ranked in the bottom 15% of the country for levels of income. Of the 318 local authority areas in the entire country, Barnsley ranked as the 19th worst for health deprivation and disability.

The Secretary of State has said that the top two priorities for the new office are preventing poor mental and physical health and improving access to health services, as has been discussed in today’s debate. As things stand, Barnsley is well above the national average for diagnoses of depression, arterial disease, learning disabilities, high blood pressure, heart failure, epilepsy, diabetes, dementia, obesity and heart disease. Barnsley East residents are almost twice as likely as residents anywhere else in the country to suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, much as a result of the thousands of men who worked down the pit. Around 8,000 miners have sadly lost their lives over the last two years.

I have raised the issue of covid death certificates with the Government on several occasions. I directly ask the Minister, again, whether she can give us an update on what the Government are doing to change guidance—it is a very simple ask—to ensure that industrial diseases are recorded on death certificates if someone, sadly, dies of covid. That is important to make sure that families receive the compensation to which they are entitled.

We cannot look at health inequalities in isolation, because income and health inequality are fundamentally linked. The ONS reports that the difference in life expectancy between the least and most deprived areas in England is 9.4 years for men and 7.6 years for women. The difference in the number of years lived in good health between the most and least deprived areas can be as much as 20. While areas such as Kensington and Westminster thrive, northern working-class towns such as Barnsley continue to be left behind.

There can be no justification for the levels of inequality that we face. Whether someone lives in Westminster or Barnsley, they deserve to live well. We have a long way to go if we are to tackle these health inequalities. They are not only an enormous challenge that the Government need to address today; they mean reversing more than a decade of decline.