Local approaches to health inequalities

Inequalities such as deprivation, low income and poor housing have always meant poorer health, reduced quality of life and early death for many people.

The pandemic has starkly exposed how these existing inequalities – and the interconnections between them, such as race, gender or geography – are associated with an increased risk of becoming ill with a disease such as COVID-19. 

Importantly, because of the current crisis, we are all more aware of what is meant by health inequalities, and the ways in which they impact on people’s lives. Therefore, it is vital to act now, and drive forward work programmes that reduce inequalities, prevent poor health, and improve people’s opportunities for better health. 

It is vital, too, that the structural inequalities in our society – for example, unemployment, overcrowded housing, and a lack of green space – are tackled, because it is changes at the root cause that will reduce health inequalities in the long term. 

Local councils, aware of the circumstances of so many of their residents, are focusing on reducing these inequalities, working with the wider health system to enable recovery from the pandemic, and to build sustainable and healthier futures.

The ongoing pandemic has (at the time of writing) killed more than three million people worldwide, including 126,000 in the UK. It has infected 4.25 million people in the UK, and that figure continues to rise. 

The risks of contracting COVID-19, and its subsequent impact, are interconnected and cumulative. Those who are male, older, and from a black or minority ethnic group, with an underlying health condition, working in a higher-risk occupation and living in a deprived area, in overcrowded housing, are at a greater risk of infection, of experiencing more severe symptoms, and of dying.

The potential for poorer health outcomes can relate to susceptibility to, or effects of, having the virus itself; and to the differential impact of measures put in place to address the pandemic, such as shielding and social distancing. 

Consequently, local areas are likely to be considering different approaches and target cohorts for each kind of impact.

Later this month, the LGA will publish a series of briefings that will describe the national literature on COVID-19 risk factors and the evidence to date on inequalities, drawing out key themes. 

The briefings will examine the impact of COVID-19 on inequalities and the impact of the pandemic restrictions on inequality. They will explore what steps councils are taking to reduce those inequalities.

We need to learn lessons from this pandemic. This is not just about the impact coronavirus is having on communities; prompted by this current pandemic, we must seize the opportunity to drive an evidence-led approach on addressing health inequalities in our neighbourhoods, villages, towns and cities.

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