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‘Renewed focus on prevention’ needed to reduce health inequalities

RSPH calls for next Government to show ambition in taxes, regulation and legislation to improve population health.
14 November 2019 , Katie Coyne

A public health manifesto addressed to all political parties calling for key policy changes to improve public health has been issued by the Royal Society for Public Health.

RSPH pointed to wide health inequalities across the UK with the gap in healthy life expectancy between the least and most deprived areas in England during 2015-17 being 19.1 years for men, and 18.8 years for women.

The society argued that the next Government should “show ambition and boldness” in using taxation, regulation and legislation in tackling health inequalities. It argued, “time and again these have been proven to be the most effective tools for driving sustained improvements in population health.”

RSPH wants to see the sugar levy on soft drinks manufacturers extended to other products high in sugar, and a mandatory targets based system for salt to support the 7g per day target. The letter also calls for minimum unit pricing for alcohol to be rolled out across the UK.

Health and wellbeing measures must be used alongside GDP in Government budgets, according to the manifesto, with New Zealand’s implementation of a Health and Wellbeing Budget earlier this year put forward as an example.

It argued for a “polluter pays” principle to be applied to the tobacco industry with the industry contributing a fixed annual sum to the Government to be used to fund stop smoking services, as well as discourage young people to start smoking.

Finally, on tackling the harm caused by illegal drugs the RSPH recommends the lead responsibility for UK illegal drugs strategy be transferred to the Department of Health and more closely align with alcohol and tobacco strategies. It called for the decriminalization of the personal possession and use of illegal substances.

RSPH chief executive Shirley Cramer said: “Today, the NHS is under pressure to meet increasing demand, while inequalities in our society continue to plague health outcomes. We need a renewed focus on prevention, ensuring that people don’t become ill in the first place and have healthier, longer lives.

“Beyond simply reversing years of devastating funding cuts to local authorities, we are calling on the next government to be ambitious and make significant progress on key issues such as obesity, alcohol, drugs and mental health. This requires longer-term thinking, that places population wellbeing at the heart of all budget decision making in all government departments.”

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