Our response to COVID-19

Green and inclusive growth strategies can support our recovery from Covid-19

As Chancellor Rishi Sunak delivers his summer statement outlining his ambitions for a recovery from the economic harm done by Covid-19, public health experts from the North East have confirmed the importance of pursuing green, inclusive growth strategies and avoiding austerity measures, to stop deepening the country’s already significant health inequalities.

Fuse Senior Investigator Clare Bambra, Professor of Public Health at Newcastle University and Inequalities Lead for the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) Applied Research Collaboration for the North East and North Cumbria, has called for investment in the expansion of social protection, public services and green, inclusive growth strategies, to ensure that disadvantaged communities including those in the North East and Cumbria, aren't hit the hardest as the UK starts to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Professor Bambra said: "In the beginning, the message was that the virus did not discriminate, but the evidence has shown that this is clearly not the case. Instead, Covid-19 has laid bare our longstanding social and economic inequalities.

“Even before this pandemic, life expectancy amongst the most disadvantaged groups was already declining in the UK – with the largest decreases in life expectancy for both men and women seen in the most deprived 10 per cent of neighbourhoods in the North East. This was a public health epidemic in itself. Covid-19 combined with already worsening health in many communities, has led to higher rates of infection and death within those groups, too."

Writing in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, Professor Bambra, alongside public health academics from Cambridge University, argue that the already unequal social and health landscape in the UK has acted as a catalyst for the COVID-19 disease amongst groups who were already in poor health as a result of their social conditions; these include low-paid frontline workers, those who live in over-crowded housing, and members of the BAME community.

Professor Bambra added: "It is likely that there will be a post-Covid-19 economic slump, and if policies of austerity are implemented again, it will make these already unacceptable levels of health inequality even worse.

"It is vital that this time, the right public policy responses, such as expanding social protection and public services and pursuing green inclusive growth strategies, are implemented so that the Covid-19 pandemic does not increase health inequalities for future generations. Public health must 'win the peace' as well as the 'war'."

Professor Bambra's work examines the lessons we can learn from Covid-19, as well as from past pandemics including the Spanish Flu of 1918 and the H1N1 outbreak of 2009.

People living in more socio-economically disadvantaged areas, as well as minority ethnic groups, already have higher rates of almost all of the known underlying clinical risk factors that increase the severity and mortality of Covid-19, including high blood pressure, diabetes, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart disease, liver disease, cancer, cardiovascular disease, obesity and smoking.

Emerging data from the Covid-19 pandemic confirms that these groups that have been hit hardest by the disease.

The research also explores the differing impacts of government Covid-19 'lockdowns' on communities, comparing how its consequences have, and are likely to continue to, disadvantage the poorest in our society.

The essay 'The Covid-19 pandemic and health inequalities' was published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. The research was funded by the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) Applied Research Collaboration (ARC) for the North East and North Cumbria, supported by the NIHR ARC for the East of England.

The paper is co-authored by Ryan Riordan and John Ford from the School of Clinical Medicine, Cambridge University, alongside Fiona Matthews from Newcastle University’s Population Health Sciences Institute.

Last modified: Thu, 09 Jul 2020 17:29:18 BST