01 June 2022
Following publication of the UK Government’s “Levelling Up” white paper, a new analysis argues for a stronger policy response to address growing health inequalities across the UK.
The study, published in the BMJ, identifies opportunities, barriers and gaps in the white paper for tackling geographical health inequalities.
The analysis was led by researchers from SPECTRUM (Shaping public health policies to reduce inequalities and harm) and SIPHER (Systems science in public health and health economics research) – two consortia funded by the UK Prevention Research Partnership (UKPRP).
“Levelling Up” health
Published in February to a mixed reception, the “Levelling Up” white paper outlines the UK Government’s strategy for tackling the stark inequalities which exist between regions across the UK.
Health inequalities are shaped by social and economic factors, as well as commercial influences, and therefore must be addressed as part of a broader approach to tackling inequalities.
Whilst areas of the white paper demonstrate a shift to reframe reducing health inequalities towards addressing wider inequalities, these are limited.
Despite the inclusion of a specific target for reducing health inequalities within the white paper, the authors highlight that the proposed measures for achieving this target are limited to health promotion and diagnostics, which available evidence suggests are unlikely to be effective.
A missed opportunity
Unequal exposure to commercial determinants of health, for example the availability of tobacco and alcohol, are also key drivers of health inequalities. However, these receive limited attention in the white paper.
This is highlighted by the study as a missed opportunity, with previous evidence demonstrating the impact of alcohol in changing mortality rates across the UK.
Most importantly, as highlighted by others, the strategy lacks the crucial long-term public investment needed to drive change.
Overcoming the UK’s persistent health inequalities requires far bolder policy investments and actions to address inequalities in social determinants such as housing, employment and income.