A new paper from the Welsh NHS Confederation Health and Wellbeing Alliance, in partnership with the Royal College of Physicians (RCP), calls on the Welsh government to produce a cross-government plan to reduce poverty and tackle inequalities.
Poverty causes ill-health and illness. This is why 50 organisations across health, housing and social care, including royal colleges and patient advocacy groups, have come together today (Friday 15 July) to launch Mind the gap: The cost-of-living crisis and the rise in inequalities in Wales.
Over the coming months, as the everyday cost of living continues to rise, higher rates of poverty and inequalities will lead to greater strain on people’s health and the NHS. We need coordinated cross-government action to improve people’s lives and protect the health and care system.
The Alliance is also calling on Welsh government to make a real difference to local communities by providing more hands-on support and detailed guidance for smaller organisations on how to tackle inequalities, as well as simplifying a complex and ever-changing landscape that currently sets hundreds of targets and performance measures.
This report comes as research finds that 60% of people in Wales feel their health has been negatively affected by the rising cost of living, according to a YouGov poll commissioned by the RCP. 90% said this was due to increased heating costs; over three quarters (76%) said it was a result of the rising cost of food and almost half (45%) said it was down to increased transport costs. 72% said that other fixed bills (council tax, water etc) were also having a negative impact on their mental or physical health.
Health inequalities – unfair and avoidable differences in health and access to healthcare across the population, and between different groups within society – have long been an issue, but the COVID-19 pandemic and the rising cost of living has exacerbated them.
Respiratory conditions such as asthma and COPD are often made worse by air pollution or exposure to mould in poor-quality housing. Recently, a debt counselling charity warned that the proportion of people in arrears with their energy bills in Wales is worse than any other part of the UK, which is pushing people into mental health crises.
That is why the Welsh NHS Confederation Health and Wellbeing Alliance is calling for cross-government action to reduce inequalities and tackle poor housing, food quality, community safety, low incomes, fuel poverty, racism and discrimination, poor transport links and air pollution – many of which are outside the remit of health and social care services.
Inequalities at a glance:
- Health inequalities cost the Welsh NHS £322 million every year (Public Health Wales)
- Wales now has the worst child poverty rate of all the UK nations at 31% (End Child Poverty)
- One in ten Welsh households live in insecure housing (Bevan Foundation)
- People in Wales face a higher risk of dying in poverty than any other UK nation (Marie Curie)
- Almost 60% of adults in Wales are living with overweight or obesity (Public Health Wales)
- The full social cost of obesity to Wales is around £3 billion a year (Frontier Economics)
- 12% of Welsh households are at least one month behind on a bill (Bevan Foundation)
- Child poverty has increased in 20 of 22 local authorities over the past five years (End Child Poverty)
- Half of all children in lone-parent families in the UK are now living in relative poverty (IFS).
Dr Olwen Williams, RCP vice president for Wales, said:
"We know that poverty causes illness and poor health. In fact, everything affects health. The cost of living crisis is likely to have a significant impact on the NHS and social care in the coming months as more people become ill and join growing waiting lists for healthcare.
"People in poverty die younger. Inequalities in life expectancy in Wales are getting wider, partly due to the pandemic, which has highlighted how economic conditions can cut lives short. People should be able to afford healthy food and warm homes without worrying so much that it negatively impacts their mental and physical health.
"Concerted cross-government action to reduce health inequalities would help keep people contributing to the economy, their local communities, and wider society and reduce avoidable illness and, in the long-run, avoidable pressure on the NHS."
Welsh NHS Confederation Health and Wellbeing Alliance
The Welsh NHS Confederation Health and Wellbeing Alliance consists of over 70 health and care organisations from royal colleges, third sector organisations and social care organisations, and was established in 2015 to discuss key priorities and policy areas.
The sub-group on health inequalities is chaired by the Royal College of Physicians and Community Housing Cymru.