ILC-UK calls on Government to “level the playing field on health”

People living in England’s most deprived places live, on average, 19 fewer years in good health than those in the least deprived places; and ILC UK has now called on the Government to commit to additional spending which “would level the playing field”.

Their call comes in the wake of the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Steve Barclay MP, announcing a Strategy to focus on major health conditions contributing to England’s “burden of disease” such as: cancers; cardiovascular diseases, including stroke and diabetes; chronic respiratory diseases; dementia; mental ill health; and musculoskeletal disorders.

Tackling these conditions, said Mr Barclay, is critical to achieving the Government’s manifesto commitment of gaining five extra years of healthy life expectancy by 2035, and its “levelling up” mission to narrow the gap in healthy life expectancy by 2030.

Responding to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care’s statement to the House of Commons, David Sinclair, Chief Executive of the International Longevity Centre UK (ILC) said: “We are living longer lives but too many of us are spending those extra years in ill health. We need to move our policy focus from extending life spans to health spans. To do this means a focus on preventative health.”

“We very much welcome the statement of intent. And we mustn’t pit conditions against each other. Now it’s time for the Government to follow these words with action and invest at least 6% of the health budget in prevention. Evidence from countries such as Canada has shown this level of investment in prevention can make a significant and lasting difference.”

“The Government must act now to address the startling gaps in healthy life expectancy between the most deprived and least deprived places – a 19-year gap is simply unacceptable – as well as ensure a level playfield across all the major diseases we might face as we age.”

Last year the ILC called on all G20 governments to invest at least 6% of their health budgets on preventative interventions, including vaccination, early detection of disease, lifestyle changes and better management of existing health conditions. For the UK, reaching this target would require a £2.687 billion investment, which is less than 5% of the £60 billion spent on COVID-19 measures.

Canada has been making this investment since at least 2010 and has since seen a significant decrease in avoidable deaths and one of the highest survival rates for cancer. The research moreover finds that countries, where a higher proportion of health spending is covered by the Government, have the highest healthy life expectancy. 

For more information on the ILC’s work in this area see A window of opportunity: Delivering prevention in an ageing world – ILCUK

Research published last October 2022 found that a quarter of a million older people could have stayed in paid employment longer had the levelling-up health targets been achieved a decade ago. The Health and place – How levelling up health can keep older workers working report builds on the earlier findings of the Marmot reviews in 2010 and 2020 led by the UCL Institute of Health Equity, showing that geographical health inequalities are deeply entrenched in England and Wales.

Modelling by the Health of Older People in Places (HOPE) project measured what would have happened if the current levelling up health targets had been achieved between 2001 and 2011 and concluded that this would have increased older people’s participation in the labour market by 3.7%, equivalent to 250,000 older people.

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