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RCP briefing for House of Lords debate on the ‘Impact of the cost of living on the public wellbeing’

The RCP has issued a briefing to peers in the House of Lords ahead of Baroness Drake’s debate on the Impact of the cost of living on the public wellbeing.

The recent rise in the cost of living has made the link between poor health and the environments people live in clearer than ever.

Polling published by the Royal College of Physicians in May 2022 found that 55% of people felt their health had been negatively affected by the rising cost of living, with the increasing costs of heating (84%), food (78%) and transport (46%) reported as the top three factors.

Before COVID-19, the gap in healthy life expectancy between the richest and poorest areas was around 19 years. Tackling health inequalities – unfair and avoidable differences in health and access to healthcare across the population, and between different groups within society – will mean more people are able to live longer, more productive lives.

While it may seem that health inequalities are a matter for the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) or the NHS, there is only so much health and social care services can do to treat the ailments created by the environments in which people live. A cross-government strategy that utilises every policy lever across government to tackle the factors that make people ill in the first place is required.  

In September 2022, the RCP published a new policy paper that examined how the cost of living crisis was worsening health inequalities. The paper includes new findings from a survey commissioned by the RCP in August 2022 which shows that due to the rising cost of energy bills, that over two thirds of people (69%) feel more worried about their ability to stay warm and healthy at home this winter compared to last winter.

The RCP convenes the Inequalities in Health Alliance (IHA), a coalition of over 200 organisations who have come together to campaign for a cross-government strategy to reduce health inequalities. Last month over 155 organisations of the IHA signed a letter to secretary of state for health and social care Dr Thérèse Coffey urging her to maintain the commitment to publish the health disparities white paper by the end of the year. 

The RCP is calling on the Government to:

  • maintain the commitment to publishing the health disparities white paper 
  • for that white paper to commit to clear cross-government action to tackle the factors that cause ill health and reduce health inequalities, including a cross-government strategy to reduce health inequalities.