Cost of living crisis is fuelling ‘second major health emergency’ in three years after Covid pandemic pushes desperate families to the brink, UK health chiefs warn

  • Health chiefs say rising cost of living is having significant health consequences 
  • It is impacting communities with existing higher levels of deprivation the most
  • But those who were ‘just about managing’ are also now in need of support 

Health chiefs have warned that the cost of living’s detrimental impact is fuelling a ‘second health emergency’ in three years after the Covid-19 pandemic pushed desperate families to the brink.

The constant increase of essential food and energy is having a significant impact on health, particularly on communities with existing higher levels of deprivation, the Local Government Association (LGA) and the Association of Directors of Public Health (ADPH) said.

But as the nation grapples with an out-of-hand cost of living crisis, those who were ‘just about managing’ now also need support, according to the organisations’ annual public health report.

It raises concerns that current health inequalities could be further exacerbated despite the ‘best efforts’ of councils and their directors of public health, who had provided support such as dedicated warm hubs and access to affordable food. 

The report said: ‘The mood of this year’s annual report is significantly different. Public health teams remain positive because this is fundamental to their work, but this is often based in hope rather than optimism. 

The rising cost of living has created a ‘second health emergency’ following on from the devastating Covid-19 pandemic

Those who were ‘just about managing’ now also need support, according to the organisations’ annual public health report

‘Cost of living pressures are the second major health-related emergency in three years. 

‘Cost of living pressures has the greatest impact on people who are least equipped to deal with financial challenges but also extends to a far larger population who would normally be able to manage without support.’ 

The report marks the 10th anniversary of the transfer of public health responsibilities to local authorities. It said uncertainty about the direction of public health policy and the approach to tackling health inequalities was concerning local public health directors. 

But it found that councils, the NHS and the voluntary and community sector had responded to the rising cost of living by building on relationships forged during the response to Covid. 

Councils are calling on the Government to make long-term increases to local public health funding. 

David Fothergill, chairman of the LGA’s Community Wellbeing Board, said: ‘The increase in the cost of living is having a real impact on our local communities, particularly in areas with higher levels of deprivation. 

‘Councils have been doing what they can to help, bringing together partners from the NHS and voluntary sector to support those who need it the most. Building on the experience of the pandemic, public health is at the forefront of each local response. 

‘However, public health services, such as for sexual health or school nurses which are crucial in helping to relieve the pressure on our health and care system, continue to face challenging financial circumstances. 

‘To address this, the Government should provide long-term funding increases to public health services, which do so much to improve health outcomes in our local communities.’ 

Local health chiefs have urged the Government to provide long-term funding increases to public health services

ADPH president and director of public health for Hertfordshire, Professor Jim McManus, said: ‘The last 10 years have seen a great deal of progress as a result of the move to local government. 

‘Directors of public health in England are able to work in much closer partnership with local government departments than before to help ensure that our communities’ health needs are put at the very heart of decision and policy-making. 

‘There is, however, still a long way to go and our colleagues in the NHS and voluntary and community sector are a critical part of the work we are doing in public health to help people, right from the very start of childhood, live longer, healthier lives. 

‘However, last week, new Public Health Grant allocations were published and yet again we find ourselves in an untenable position, without adequate funding. 

‘Sadly, these cuts are counterproductive and, despite our best efforts, will inevitably result in vital services being reduced at a time when existing health inequalities have been further exacerbated by the rising cost of living.’ 

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