A major report commissioned by the Northern Health Science Alliance has connected poor health to poorer productivity in the Northern regions of the UK for the first time.
The report, titled Health for Wealth: Building a Healthier Northern Powerhouse for UK Productivity, found that tackling health disparities between the North and South would boost the Northern economy by £13.2bn.
The report was launched at an event in Newcastle on 20 November 2018. It was attended by the report’s lead author Clare Bambra, who is Professor of Public Health at Newcastle University. Researchers from the Universities of Liverpool, Manchester, Lancaster, York and Sheffield were also involved in compiling the report.
Data gathered from all local authorities in England, as well as national survey data, were used to assess the impact of poor health on the economy in the North. One key finding was that workers with ill health in the North are 39% more likely to lose their job than workers in the rest of England. Furthermore, if these workers with ill health do return to work, their wages are 66% lower than someone living elsewhere in England.
The report stated that the UK had "deep-rooted and persistent regional inequalities", and that people in the North were "consistently found" to be less healthy than those in other parts of the country. Life expectancy in the North is on average two years lower than in the rest of England, it said.
To address these inequalities, the report calls for increased NHS spending in the North, to be spent on prevention services and health science research. Recommendations to the central government also include implementing an inclusive, green industrial strategy to reduce economic inequality, and improving labour market participation and job retention amongst people with health conditions in the North.
Researchers found that taking steps to improve health in the North would achieve significant economic gains. Increasing the NHS budget by 10% in the Northern Powerhouse, which focuses on the "Core Cities" of Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield, Hull and Newcastle, will decrease economic inactivity rates by 3 percentage points, the report finds. Increasing of the proportion of people in good health in the Northern Powerhouse by 3.5% would reduce the employment gap between the Northern Powerhouse and the rest of England by 10%.
Lead author of the report, Clare Bambra, emphasises the significance of this major report for not only Northern regions but the rest of the country as well: “This report demonstrates the connection between poor productivity and higher rates of ill health in the North. If you improve health in the North you will improve its productivity – potentially benefiting the whole of the UK’s economy.
“For the Northern Powerhouse to reach its full potential there needs to be increased investment in place-based public health in local authorities. There needs to be increased NHS funding in the North, spent on prevention services and health science research.
“Work needs to be done to improve labour market participation and job retention among people with a health condition in the region. Poorer health in the North affects the entire country’s economy, a healthier Northern Powerhouse will mean a healthier UK economy.”