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The 10 most deprived areas in England have been given nearly 15% of all public health budget cuts over the past five years, according to new analysis.
Local investment in public health budgets as a whole has fallen by almost £900m since 2014, however, the most deprived areas have had ‘disproportionate’ cuts.
Analysis by think tank the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) found that councils in England have had their public health budgets cut by £871.6m by the Government over the last five years. Almost £1 of every £7 cut has come from the most deprived areas in England, according to the research.
In July, the King’s Fund reported that around £3.2bn was spent on total public health in England in the 2019/20 budget, a drop from the £3.3bn the previous year.
The IPPR report estimated that between 2014/15 and 2019/20 public health services such as those offering health checks, drug and alcohol and stop smoking cessation support, received £871.6m less, with sexual health services alone losing £196.4m – the biggest cut.
The report said: ‘This provides new evidence showing that those areas with the highest need have faced the highest cuts, suggesting that the approach to public health during the austerity era has been both unjust and inefficient.
‘Comparing those cuts in the most and least deprived 10 local authorities, we see just how disproportionate. Almost £1 in every £7 cut from public health services has come from England’s ten most deprived communities – compared to just £1 in every £46 in the country’s ten least deprived places.’
It added: ‘The total, absolute cuts in the poorest places have thus been six times larger than in the least deprived. In relative terms, the poorest ten places have lost approximately 35p in every £1 of their budget, compared to approximately 20p in every £1 of their budget cut in the least deprived places.’
Previous research shows that sexual health services, for example, have a strong return on investment – £11 for every £1 invested in teenage pregnancy and £9 for every £1 spent on contraception – while cuts on these services have resulted in diagnoses of syphilis and gonorrhoea rising considerably.
Likewise, tobacco control targeting children can generate up to £15 of benefits for every £1 invested.
Lead author and IPPR research fellow Chris Thomas said: ‘Austerity has meant substantial cuts to local government funding, including the public health budget. Today, we expose that these cuts have had the perverse effect of hitting the poorest, the hardest. This means the health and wellbeing of the most vulnerable people in our country has been put at risk – and puts unnecessary strain on the NHS.
‘Government must ensure our health and wellbeing by investing in a fairer deal for local government.’