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North's health and economy hit hardest by COVID-19

The North has been hit harder than the rest of the country during COVID-19 and this has increased inequality in England, a new report co-authored by a Fuse academic has revealed.

The report COVID-19 and the Northern Powerhouse: Tackling Health Inequalities for UK Health and Productivity looks at the impact of the pandemic on the health and economic inequalities between the 'Northern Powerhouse' and the rest of England.

It has found the pandemic hit the North harder and more deeply and measures must be put in place to stop inequalities rising further and faster.

The report conservatively estimates the economic cost of the increased deaths in the North during the pandemic at £6.86bn and the reductions in mental health in the region due to the pandemic at around £5bn a year.

The increased death rates in the Northern Powerhouse remain significant even after accounting for deprivation, ethnicity and the age of the population. Figures show that austerity also put the region in a more vulnerable position by reducing health and wellbeing, and cost the UK around £2bn a year in lost productivity, with over £16bn lost since 2011.

"Our report highlights that we are not all in the pandemic together with the Northern regions being hardest hit"

Professor Clare Bambra

Fuse Senior Investigator Professor Clare Bambra, Professor of Public Health, Newcastle University, said: “Our report highlights that we are not all in the pandemic together with the Northern regions being hardest hit.

"Health and wealth in the Northern Powerhouse lagged behind the rest of the country even before the COVID pandemic, and over the last year our significant regional inequalities have been exacerbated.

“We need to significantly ‘level up’ the country by providing immediate additional support to local authorities and devolved administrations in the North - and by investing further in public health prevention in the Northern Powerhouse.

"In this way, we can reduce the inequalities that the pandemic has highlighted and ensure that our regions are better equipped for building back better.”

The report, led by scientists from Newcastle University, the University of Manchester, University of York and University of Liverpool found:

  • An extra 57.7 more people (per 100,000) died in the Northern Powerhouse than the rest of England between March and July and this could cost the UK economy an additional £6.86bn in reduced productivity
  • Mental and ļ¬nancial wellbeing was hardest hit in the Northern Powerhouse, as was loneliness
  • Reductions in mental wellbeing in the Northern Powerhouse could cost the UK economy up to £5 billion in reduced productivity
  • Austerity disproportionately affected the Northern Powerhouse, particularly areas of high deprivation which led to reduced productivity
  • Reductions in the core spending power of local authorities in the Northern Powerhouse by £1 per-head cost £3.17 per-head in lost productivity, equivalent to around a £2bn loss in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per-year, or £16bn between 2011 and 2018
  • Pre-pandemic child health, a key predictor of life-long health and economic productivity, was poor and deteriorating in the Northern Powerhouse. Since the pandemic, adverse trends in poverty, education, employment and mental health for children and young people have been exacerbated
  • Economic outcomes, particularly unemployment rates, were hardest hit in the Northern Powerhouse.

These estimates are likely to be conservative as the North of England has been hardest hit during the second wave of the pandemic and the above relates only to the first wave.

Hannah Davies, Health Inequalities lead for the Northern Health Science Alliance, said: “Health inequalities between the North and the rest of England have been growing for over a decade.

"This report demonstrates the impact that has had on the productivity of the region and how it has led COVID-19 to take a devastating grip on the North.

“We call on the Government to follow the recommendations of the report to put mitigating measures in place, to support public health measures, reduce child poverty, tackle mental health to support North through the pandemic and allow its ambition of levelling up to become an achievable reality.”

Recommendations to stop further deteriorations in the level of inequalities:

  • Place additional resource into the Test and Trace system in the Northern Powerhouse and deliver through local primary care, public health, NHS labs and local authority services to ensure full population coverage.
  • Target clinically vulnerable and deprived communities in the Northern Powerhouse in the first phase of the roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccine.
  • Increase NHS and local authority resources and service provision for mental health in the Northern Powerhouse. Invest in research into mental health interventions in the North.
  • Reduce child poverty – increase child benefit, increase the child element of Universal Credit by £20 per week, extend provision of free childcare, remove the benefit cap and the two-child limit; and extend free school meals. Invest in children’s services by increasing government grants to local authorities in the Northern Powerhouse.
  • Maintain and increase the additional £1,000 extra funding of Universal Credit.
  • Provide additional resource to local authorities and the NHS in the Northern Powerhouse by increasing the existing NHS health inequalities weighting within the NHS funding formula in its reset and restore plans.
  • Deliver a £1 billion ring-fenced fund to tackle health inequalities at a regional level and increase local authority public health funding to address the higher levels of deprivation and public health need in the North.
  • Create northern ‘Health for Life’ centres o­ffering a life-long programme of health and wellbeing advice and support services from pre-natal to healthy ageing programmes. Targeted to the most deprived areas in the North, they will take a preventative approach to health directly into the communities which need it most.
  • Deliver health and mental health promotion interventions together with industry and employers, targeted at employee mental and physical health.
  • Level up investment in health research and development in the North of England to create high-value jobs and support local health and drive the economy.
  • Recommit to ending child poverty.
  • Develop a national strategy for action on the social determinants of health with the aim of reducing inequalities in health, with a key focus on children.

The report is a joint piece of work between The Northern Health Science Alliance, NIHR Applied Research Collaborations (North East and North Cumbria, Greater Manchester, North West Coast, Yorkshire and Humber), and the NIHR School of Public Health Research (SPHR).

Last modified: Thu, 19 Nov 2020 15:50:36 GMT