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Budget cut ‘will lead to health inequalities’

Corin Williams19/08/2015 - 14:28

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Public health cuts will widen health inequalities
Public health cuts will widen health inequalities

A proposal to slash all English councils’ public health funds by 6.2 per cent will have a disproportionate impact on black and minority ethnic populations, according to research.

It has also been revealed that an alternative ‘per capita’ method of reducing public health grants would be a fairer system.

In June chancellor George Osborne announced a £200m reduction in local authority spending on public health by April 2016.

The Department of Health then published a consultation outlining four methods of making the cuts, but with the preferred choice of aflat 6.2 per cent cut across all local authorities.

Analysis by Benjamin Barr, public health and policy research fellow at the University of Liverpool, has revealed this method would not only have a greater impact on poorer areas but also on people who share a protected characteristic under equalities legislation.

The analysis also shows that the average score on the index of multiple deprivation – government figures used to identify poorer areas – is on average far higher for the 10 authorities that are facing the greatest cuts than those with the lowest cut.

Seven out of the 10 most affected authorities are London boroughs, whereas only one of the 10 least affected is situated in the north.

Mr Barr said: ‘The cuts are likely to have the greatest adverse impact on the poorest parts of the country, particularly if they are carried out as outlined in the consultation.

‘The Department of Health should conduct a thorough impact assessment of the impact of the cuts on statutory equality groups and on health inequalities.’

Dominic Harrison, public health director at Blackburn with Darwen Council, said the proposed grant reduction would unfairly disadvantage local authorities with higher black and minority ethnic populations.

‘If the government is going to cut prevention spend regardless of professional advice, it should adopt a flat rate of £3.60 per capita not a universal 6.2 per cent cut of public health grants. This will be the least regressive method,’ he added.

‘Northern local authorities that have prioritised prevention and historically invested a significant amount of money on public health programmes will be disproportionately hit by a 6.2 per cent cut. They have high prevention spend per capita - for this they will be hit harder than those who spend less and have better health. It feels biblically unfair.’

Last week Barbara Rice, deputy leader of Thurrock Council, warned the in-year reduction in budget could lead to legal challenges fromcontractors.

Mr Harrison said: ‘We are currently reviewing where the least worst cuts can be made – and which present the least worst contracting risk.

‘It feels as if Osborne and the Treasury have given no thought at all to this cut. It is unlikely that the cuts as a whole will save anything – they simply shift the cost in time – we will pay later for what we don’t prevent now.’

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