‘National disgrace’: tackle regional health inequality, PM to be told | Society

The shadow health secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, has urged the government to tackle the “national disgrace” of regional health inequalities across England.

In a speech marking the 10 anniversary of the landmark Marmot review into health inequalities in England, he will say ministers should address the crisis in the budget as part of Boris Johnson’s stated intention to “level up” the country.

Ashworth’s comments come as Labour figures show people who live in so-called “red wall” constituencies, the party’s former strongholds in the Midlands and the north that switched to the Conservatives in the December’s general election, suffer notably more ill-health than those in more prosperous areas.

Noting that child poverty is a key indicator of health problems later in life, Ashworth will say the next Labour leader should make tackling this issue “a moral crusade” for the party.

A decade after his 2010 report, Sir Michael Marmot, a leading epidemiologist and expert on health inequality, will address what has happened since then in an update to be published on Tuesday.

A Labour analysis based on data from the House of Commons library has shown what the party describes as health disparities between former “red wall” areas and better-off ones.

Comparing health outcomes in 20 red wall constituencies with those represented by the cabinet ministers Rishi Sunak, Priti Patel, Matt Hancock and Dominic Raab, the analysis found that men in the poorer areas live 5.9 fewer healthy years on average and women 7.7 fewer years.

The party found deaths from cardiovascular disease was above the English average in all 20 of the sample red wall constituencies while deaths from cancer was above average in 95% of them.

Above-average child poverty levels were found in 80% of the constituencies, whether or not housing costs were taken into account, while the proportion of adults and children who were overweight or obese was above the average in all 20.

In his speech, Ashworth will call on the government to reverse years of spending cuts to address the crisis. “Inequality in health is the worst inequality of all,” he will say. “Surely there can be no greater social injustice than people dying sooner because of poverty and austerity?

“This is a national disgrace and requires urgent government action. Boris Johnson will fail to ‘level up’ the economy if he refuses to abandon austerity and tackle these health inequalities.”

Ashworth is also due to challenge Labour about being more ambitious on addressing child poverty. An analysis of the party’s 2019 manifesto by the Resolution Foundation concluded that a focus on spending for older voters meant Labour would not notably reduce levels of child poverty.

“We know a child growing up in poverty is more likely to suffer ill health and in turn more likely to develop health problems in later life,” Ashworth will say. “Yet thanks to Tory cuts, child poverty is now projected to rise to the highest level since record began – higher child poverty than even the Thatcher years.

“Every child matters and deserves the best possible start but instead this government condemns future generations to becoming ill quicker in life and dying sooner. Challenging these health inequalities and escalating child poverty must be a moral crusade for Labour.”

The Marmot review, which was commissioned in 2008 by the then Labour government, uncovered massive “social gradient in health”, meaning that the lower a person’s socioeconomic position, the worse their health was likely to be.

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