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Universal credit cut risks ‘exacerbating’ health inequalities

Health, doctor doing work, health inequalities,

By Beth Gault
14 September 2021

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The Government’s plan to cut universal credit and working tax credit at the beginning of October is likely to ‘exacerbate’ existing regional health inequalities, as the areas with the worst health are likely to experience a greater reduction in support, charity the Health Foundation has said.

The plans will see the £20-a-week uplift in universal credit, which was introduced to help people during the Covid pandemic, scrapped at the end of the month.

The Health Foundation said those living in areas of England with the worst health would face a financial drop almost twice that of those living in the areas with the best health.

Those living in the 10% of local authorities with the worst health will face a £207 drop per year, compared to a £102 drop in 10% of areas with the best health.

The study, conducted by Kantar between 24 and 31 August 2021, looked at 2,500 UK based individuals over 16.

The Health Foundation said there was an ‘inextricable link’ between people’s health and income, and that the cut would remove vital support at a time when many are already struggling with reduced income and rising debt.

The analysis showed that those living in the areas with the highest share of universal credit recipients are expected to live 7.8 fewer years in good health (59.8 years) than those with the lowest number of recipients (67.6 years).

Jo Bibby, director of health at the Health Foundation, said: ‘The unequal impact of the pandemic on the poorest – in terms of more deaths from Covid-19 and falling family finances – reflects both long standing inequalities and a failure to prioritise support for the most vulnerable in our society.

‘A cut to universal credit would be a step backwards and an indication that the government has not learned from mistakes of the recovery from the financial crisis.

‘The pandemic is not yet over and if we are to avoid long-term scars, it is vital that we maintain this support on which so many families rely. The Chancellor must seriously consider the inextricable link between people’s income and their health in making this decision.’

Earlier this year, it was found that the most deprived areas in England had almost one and a half fewer full-time-equivalent GPs (1.41) per 10,000 patients than the least deprived areas.

At the time, the authors said: ‘Addressing this is even more critical in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has disproportionately affected under-resourced and underserved communities, and has widened existing health inequities patterned by class, race, and geography.’

It comes a week after the Government announced plans to increase National Insurance contributions in order to pay for the social care system and tackle the NHS backlog.

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