Health and wealth divide in UK widens despite ‘levelling’ drive, report finds | Inequality

People in the UK are getting “sicker and poorer”, with a gaping health and wealth gap between regions only getting worse, research has found.

Economic inactivity due to illness is at its highest level since records began, with 2.5 million working-age adults inactive due to their health, the IPPR report, due out later this week, said.

The government’s leveling agenda is being critically undermined, the report says, as the new data shows that illness is twice as likely to force people out of work in the north-east of England, Wales and Northern Ireland than in London and the south-east. .

Labor said the report was “devastating” and showed the Conservatives “completely failing to deliver, and inequalities are actually getting worse”.


Since Rishi Sunak took over as Prime Minister, the leveling-off agenda promoted by Boris Johnson appears to have fallen down the list of political priorities, despite the Conservatives’ need to win a series of “red wall” seats across defending the north and the Midlands. the next election.

The IPPR report shows that a significantly higher than average proportion of working age people are economically inactive due to ill health in the North East, North West, Yorkshire, East Midlands, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

This is Northern Ireland where people are most likely to be out of work due to illness. A total of 10.8% of the Northern Irish population is too ill to work, compared to 4.4% in the south-east. The UK average is 6.1%.

All these areas also have lower than average life expectancy and lower than average productivity per person, according to the report, entitled “To better? Health and the UK labor market”, published on Wednesday.

Productivity levels in these places are well below those in London, where each person adds an average of £52,239 to the economy per year. This compares with £20,364 in the North East, where productivity is lowest, and an average of £29,063 in the UK. This gap of more than £30,000 between London and the North East has increased by £8,000 since 2012.

The northeast also has the lowest healthy life expectancy, at 59 years, compared to 66 years in the southeast, which has the highest healthy life expectancy. Healthy life expectancy is the measure of the number of years people report living in good health.

The report finds that Covid-19 has exacerbated this regional disparity, with Wales, Scotland and every region in the north of England and the Midlands having higher long-term Covid incidents than the UK average.

Chris Thomas, head of the commission on health and well-being at the IPPR and author of the report, said: “The evidence is increasingly clear: a fairer country is a healthier country, and a healthier country is a more prosperous country. Yet as a country we are getting sicker and poorer – with increasing health inequalities undermining national prosperity, particularly in the north and the devolved nations.

“If the government really wants to turn the country around, it needs to do much more to make better health a cornerstone of the UK’s economic recovery. Better health is the best and clearest route to better lives, fairer economies and greater prosperity for us everyone.”

One of the government’s missions was to reduce the gap in healthy life expectancy between the most diverse areas by 2030, and by 2035 it will increase by five years. However, a new bill gives the government the power to change its missions unilaterally.

Ebbw Vale High Street
The main street in Ebbw Vale. The rate of prolonged Covid in Wales is among the worst in the UK. Photo: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Lisa Nandy, the shadow secretary, said: “Three years ago the Conservatives were elected on a promise to level the UK, with reducing health inequalities one of the key aims. This devastating report shows that the Tories are completely failing to deliver, and inequalities are actually getting worse.

“For too long people and places across the UK have been written off. The next Labor Government will support all people and all places with the biggest ever transfer of power from Westminster, as well as reforming work support for the economically inactive and investment in our NHS.

Jordan Cummins, the health director at the CBI, the business group and a member of the commission, called on the government to intervene to stop the reduction in economic growth caused by the health inequality gap.

He said: “Businesses across the country care deeply about the health and resilience of the workforce and this should be a priority for the government. The result of millions being lost from the labor market has a real human cost, but also an impediment to economic growth.

“Government intervention, in partnership with industry, will be crucial. Policymakers must prioritize prevention, reduce harm once people are sick, invest in innovative treatments and work with businesses to accelerate progress and create healthier workplaces and more inclusive employment opportunities.”

Clare Bambra, a professor of public health at Newcastle University and another member of the IPPR commission, said: “The north has great economic potential. But time and time again, research has shown that the government’s failure to address health inequalities If ministers want to level the country, deliver better lives for all and ensure a productive economy, they need to tackle health inequalities in the north of England and beyond.”

A government spokesman said: “We prioritized health and social care in the Autumn Statement with a further £8bn, on top of previous record funding, to ensure people can access high-quality care as soon as possible.

“We are supporting people with the cost of living crisis with £1,200 worth of support for the most vulnerable households and have provided more than £3.4 billion to local authorities in England this year to tackle issues such as alcohol use, obesity and smoking.”

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