Mind the gap: what's stopping change?
Poverty causes ill-health and illness.
The COVID-19 pandemic has widened existing inequalities and highlighted the link between poverty and poor health outcomes in Wales. Indeed, the Future Generations Commissioner and Public Health Wales have found that those who were already living in poor health, poverty or in marginalised communities in Wales have been the hardest hit by the pandemic.
Health inequalities are avoidable, unfair and systematic differences in health between different groups of people. Over the coming months, as the everyday cost-of-living continues to rise faster than people’s income, this is likely to lead to a drop in living standards for many people. The rising cost of groceries and energy, combined with staff shortages in some sectors and supply chain disruptions, have driven up inflation. This is likely to exacerbate inequalities in the coming years.
“Many people have had to make impossible choices – between buying food, paying household bills, or staying connected with loved ones. This has impacted on people’s mental health and overall wellbeing, leaving some to feel as though they are unable to cope and recover from the COVID-19 crisis.”
British Red Cross
Evidence suggests that at most, only 20% of a nation’s health and wellbeing is dependent on healthcare services. The NHS alone does not have the levers to reduce inequalities: this is why we need to shift the focus from public health initiatives delivered through the NHS and local authorities to addressing factors such as poor housing, transport and food quality. Addressing the factors that cause ill-health in the first place should be a central focus for the Welsh Government.
“Those struggling with poor health face loss of earnings through employment and indeed may be unable to work, leading them to interact with the benefit system. As well as impacts on wellbeing, those in poor health may also have increased living costs and children suffering with poor health will see an impact on their education.”
Joseph Rowntree Foundation
The Welsh Government should produce a cross-government plan for reducing poverty and inequalities in adults and children. This should outline the action being taken across all government departments, setting out how success will be measured and evaluated through shared performance measures and outcomes for all public bodies in Wales, accompanied by guidance on how individual organisations should collaborate to reduce inequalities and tackle the cost-of-living crisis.
Click here to read the briefing in Welsh.