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Spending review: Public health grant may need to cover cuts to universal credit

Spending review: Public health grant may need to cover cuts to universal credit
By Jess Hacker
26 October 2021

Potential social detriments to health associated with cuts to Universal Credit should be factored into the public health grant, a leading researcher has said ahead of the spending review.

Earlier this month, the Government ended the £20-a-week uplift to Universal Credit, which analysis at the time estimated could push 800,000 people into poverty.

However, researchers have warned that the potential impact this has on health may need to be covered by the public health grant: a service which primarily funds sexual health, drug and alcohol services, and which has seen funding cuts of around £1bn since 2015/16.

Speaking with Healthcare Leader, David Finch, assistant director in the Health Foundation’s Healthy Lives directorate, said cuts to the benefit system ‘that are driving an increase in poverty’ are ‘potentially going to place greater pressure on public health provision’.

An increase in poverty can see an increase in people using coping mechanisms, such as drinking or smoking, he said.

‘If there was an increase in such coping mechanisms, then yes it could lead to additional pressure on the services funded by the grant, so that should be factored into the settlement provided for the grant,’ he added.

Despite this, Mr Finch said the grant is ‘continually deprioritised’ and ‘overlooked’ in the Government’s budget and spending reviews – taking place tomorrow (27 October) – focusing instead on the NHS and social care.

Recent research, conducted by the Health Foundation, suggested that the grant would require an additional £1.4bn a year by 2024/25 if it were to be restored.

It found that the impact of the reduced funding has been far more heavily felt by those living in more deprived areas, which the Foundation claims threatens to ‘undermine the levelling up agenda’ – an initiative aiming to address regional disparities – and further widen ‘already stark health inequalities’ compounded by the pandemic.

The pandemic has consistently highlighted worsening health disparities associated with deprivation, with research revealing the existence of a GP deficit based on deprivation level, while adults in the most deprived areas are more than three times as likely to report Covid vaccine hesitancy.

In its spending review tomorrow, the Treasury is expected to pledge £5.9bn funding to tackle England’s growing backlog for care, which now sits at 5.7 million people.

Healthcare Leader’s full interview with Mr Finch can be read here.

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