£3.2bn needed to reverse the impact of cuts to the public health grant

Several billion pounds will be needed in order to reverse the severe impact of cuts to the public health grant, according to new research

An additional £3.2bn a year is required to reverse the impact of government cuts to the public health grant, according to The Health Foundation.

The grant enables local authorities to deliver vital public health services – such as obesity programmes, drug and alcohol services and sexual health services – but a new briefing paper shows that it has seen a £700m real terms reduction in funding between 2014/15 and 2019/20. This amounts to almost a quarter (23.5%) per person.

The paper highlights that the cuts have not protected areas with the greatest deprivation or need, at a time when the government has pledged to tackle such injustices. It also notes that reductions have come as life expectancy improvements are stalling for the first time in over 100 years.

The Health Foundation says that the additional money is now needed to reallocate the grant to more effectively meet public need while restoring losses. It suggests that funding should be increased and locally distributed according to an independent calculation by the Advisory Committee on Resource Allocation.

The charity suggests that, at a minimum, the government should reverse the real terms cuts and allow additional investment in the most deprived areas by providing an additional £1.3bn in 2019/20. The remaining £1.9bn a year should then be allocated in phased budget increases over the following four years, with further adjustments for inflation.

Jo Bibby, director of health at the Health Foundation, said:

“While the Secretary of State has rightly identified prevention as one of his three key priorities, the sustained cuts to the public health grant – a vital means of support for local authorities to tackle the causes of ill health – clearly run counter to this.

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“At a time of ongoing wider cuts to public services that directly impact on people’s health, and with the NHS under intense pressure, the cuts to the public health grant are short sighted and irresponsible. The long term consequences of eroding people’s health are likely to prove far more costly than the short term savings made.

“Five years since the NHS Five Year Forward View called for a radical upgrade in prevention, and with austerity said to be at an end, it is clear that if the government is serious about protecting and improving health, this rhetoric needs to translate into action. That should start by addressing the lack of investment in the public health grant in the forthcoming budget and following spending review.”

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