Report calls for urgent action on health

A new report from the Health Foundation warns that health inequalities could have major implications for the UK workforce in the future.

Mature female doctor standing on hospital corridor, looking at clipboard.

The number of working-age adults living with a major illness is likely to rise steeply – up from 3 million to 3.7 million by 2040, meaning many more could leave the workforce unless the Government, employers and public services take action, according to a new report from the Health Foundation.

The report warns that 80% (540,000) of this increase will be in the more deprived 50% of areas, further entrenching health inequalities and having considerable implications for local and regional economies. In addition to developing a major illness earlier than people in wealthier parts of the country, people in deprived areas are also three times more likely to die by the age of 70, says the report.

This could have major implications for the UK economy, leading to more people leaving the workforce, reducing labour supply and undermining efforts to increase economic growth.

The analysis finds that a handful of conditions contribute to most of the health inequality such as chronic pain, type 2 diabetes and anxiety and depression, which are projected to grow at a faster rate in the most deprived areas. These conditions have a significant impact on quality of life and may limit people’s ability to work for long periods of time, says the Foundation. They are also typically managed by GPs or in the community, underlining the importance of investing in primary care and focusing on prevention and early intervention, the report states.

Government targets will be missed

On current trends, the report says the government’s target to improve healthy life expectancy by five years by 2035 and narrow the gap between the areas with the best and worst health will be missed by a significant margin.

Ann Raymond, Economist at the Health Foundation’s REAL Centre, said: “The findings from this report clearly demonstrate how people living in more deprived areas develop major illness earlier, live for longer in poor health and die younger than their counterparts in less deprived areas. These inequalities will remain stubbornly persistent over the next two decades if current trends continue.

This report should be a wake-up call for politicians ahead of the General Election about the need for action to address rising ill health – our future health and prosperity as a nation depends on it.”

The report concludes that action beyond the NHS is needed to address poor health. Policies focused on the risk factors of ill health – smoking, poor diet, physical inactivity and harmful alcohol consumption – are essential but insufficient to tackle health inequalities. The report also calls for:

  • a long-term, cross-government approach to address the underlying causes of ill health, such as poor housing, inadequate incomes and poor-quality jobs
  • investment in the NHS, local authorities and the voluntary sector to manage higher demand for services, especially in the most deprived areas
  • employers to be doing more to improve working conditions and support the wellbeing of their staff.

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