The Health Foundation calls for whole government approach to improving health

The Health Foundation has released a new briefing that calls for a whole-government approach to improving health.

As well as calling for a government-created ‘strong national framework for action’, strong accountability, and a greater emphasis on ‘levelling up’, the paper also provides recommendations of ‘evidence-based policies’ to help improve health equity.

Important points from the briefing include a call for “coordinated action across government to improve health and health equity and generate future prosperity” and that “improving health requires action to be taken by the whole of government, not just the Department of Health and Social Care and the NHS.”

“Government also needs to create the conditions for others to play their part in improving health. Local authorities have a central role in improving health but have experienced cuts to baseline budgets in recent years. Government needs to provide sufficient and sustainable funding but also flexibility in how funding can be spent, multi-year settlements and further devolution to support joined-up, place-based working,” states the report in a key passage.

Other points of note include that the UK Government estimate that the economic costs associated with poor health are around £100 billion per year. While The Health Foundation highlights the connection between future economic prosperity and health, adding that it requires investment in areas such as “education and employment opportunities, housing, social networks and healthy environments.”

In the introduction to the piece, The Health Foundation also states: “The health of the population is one of any nation’s biggest assets. Good health is vital for prosperity, allowing people to play an active role at work and in their communities. The inextricable link between health and wealth has been made more prominent by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has laid bare the consequences of underlying poor health in the UK.”

It adds later in the piece that, “people’s health status also influences the age at which they can continue to make an economic contribution through work.” The report adds that, “only half of men living in the most deprived tenth of areas in England report good health in their late 50s (well before retirement age), while in the least deprived tenth of areas it is not until their late 70s,” with a similar pattern existing for women, too.

On ‘levelling up’, it says that, “the government itself needs to seize the momentum and make the most of the opportunities posed by the recovery and levelling up agenda.”

Ideas for ‘placing improving health and health equity at the heart of the government’s agenda’, meanwhile, include asking for strong cross-government coordination, political buy-in and investment. There’s also mention of the need for a “binding target to increase healthy years of life and reduce the gap between those living in the most and least deprived areas” and “improving health and health equity as an explicit objective of every major policy decision.”

Accountability, it adds, could be achieved through a value-for-money study, a cross-party Parliamentary Select Committee investigation into progress and plans, annual reporting to parliament, the addition of a Commissioner for Equitable Futures role, and the Office for Budget Responsibility taking “greater account of future fiscal risks”.

Policy proposals made in the publication involve ideas from a range of organisations and reports, such as reinstating the £20 uplift to Universal Credit, offering universal 30-hours free entitlement to childcare, the introduction of a Healthy Homes Bill, a one-off £20 billion investment in social housing over 10 years, achieving net zero by 2050, and devolving spatial planning powers, control over transport, rail services and funding to local authorities and metro mayors.

In addition, instead of focusing on solely the “spending, regulation and policies”, the publication also argues, there is “insufficient focus being given to how government organises itself to create the conditions for others to improve health and health equity.”

To find the original report and read it in full, please click here.