COVID-19 and Northern Powerhouse – Tackling inequalities for UK health and productivity

A Northern Powerhouse Report, focused on tackling inequalities for UK health and productivity and commissioned by the Northern Health Science Alliance, has been released today, Monday 30 November 2020.

According to the report, the North of England’s economy has been hit harder than the rest of the country during the COVID-19 pandemic, with inequalities between the North and the rest of the country exacerbated.

It states that the pandemic hit the North harder and more deeply, and that mitigating measures must be put in place to stop inequalities rising further and faster.

The report conservatively estimates the economic cost of the increased mortality in the North during the pandemic at £6.86bn and the reductions in mental health in the region due to the pandemic at around £5bn a year.

The increased mortality rates in the Northern Powerhouse remain significant, even after accounting for deprivation, ethnicity and the age-structure of the population. Figures show austerity simultaneously put the region in a more vulnerable position by reducing health and wellbeing. This has cost the UK around £2bn a year in lost productivity, with over £16bn lost since 2011.

The report, led by scientists from Newcastle University, the University of Manchester, University of York and University of Liverpool found:

  • An extra 57.7 more people per 100,000 died in the Northern Powerhouse than the rest of England between March and July and this could cost the UK economy an additional £6.86bn in reduced productivity
  • Mental and financial wellbeing was hardest hit in the Northern Powerhouse, as was loneliness
  • Reductions in mental wellbeing in the Northern Powerhouse could cost the UK economy up to £5 billion in reduced productivity
  • Austerity disproportionately affected the Northern Powerhouse, particularly areas of high deprivation which led to reduced productivity
  • Reductions in the core spending power of local authorities in the Northern Powerhouse by £1 per-head cost £3.17 per-head in lost productivity, equivalent to around a £2bn loss in GDP per-year, or £16bn between 2011 and 2018
  • Pre-pandemic child health, a key predictor of life-long health and economic productivity, was poor and deteriorating in the Northern Powerhouse. Since the pandemic, adverse trends in poverty, education, employment and mental health for children and young people have been exacerbated
  • Economic outcomes, particularly unemployment rates, were hardest hit in the Northern Powerhouse.

Across the board, these estimates are likely to be conservative as the North of England has been hardest hit during the second wave of the pandemic and these modelling exercises focused on outcomes from the first wave.

The report authors make the following series of recommendations to stop further deteriorations in the level of inequalities:

  • Place additional resource into the Test and Trace system in the Northern Powerhouse and deliver through local primary care, public health, NHS labs and local authority services to ensure full population coverage.
  • Target clinically vulnerable and deprived communities in the Northern Powerhouse in the first phase of the roll out of the COVID-19 vaccine
  • Increase NHS and local authority resources and service provision for mental health in the Northern Powerhouse. Invest in research into mental health interventions in the North
  • Reduce child poverty – increase child benefit, increase the child element of Universal Credit by £20 per week, extend provision of free childcare, remove the benefit cap and the two-child limit; and extend provision of free school meals. Invest in children’s services by increasing government grants to local authorities in the Northern Powerhouse
  • Maintain and increase the additional £1,000 extra funding of Universal Credit
  • Provide additional resource to local authorities and the NHS in the Northern Powerhouse by increasing the existing NHS health inequalities weighting within the NHS funding formula in its reset and restore plans
  • Deliver a £1 billion fund ring-fenced to tackle health inequalities at a regional level and increase local authority public health funding to address the higher levels of deprivation and public health need in the North
  • Create northern ‘Health for Life’ centres o­ffering a life-long programme of health and wellbeing advice and support services from pre-natal to healthy ageing programmes. Targeted at the most deprived areas in the North, they will take a preventative approach to health directly into the communities that need it most
  • Deliver health and mental health promotion interventions together with industry and employers, targeted at employee mental and physical health
  • Level up investment in health R&D in the North of England to create high value jobs and support local health and drive the economy
  • Recommit to ending child poverty
  • Develop a national strategy for action on the social determinants of health with the aim of reducing inequalities in health, with a key focus on children

Download the full report: COVID-19 and Northern Powerhouse – Tackling inequalities for UK health and productivity.

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