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‘We need a poverty action plan to fight health inequalities in Wales’

A new briefing from the Welsh NHS Confederation Health and Wellbeing Alliance and the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) describes how the NHS, local government and third sector organisations across Wales are working to break down barriers and tackle health inequalities.

In partnership with the Welsh NHS Confederation Health and Wellbeing Alliance, RCP Cymru Wales has launched a new briefing paper: Everything affects health, which reiterates our call for a cross-government delivery plan on poverty and inequalities that sets out milestones, timelines and clear targets detailing what every Welsh government department is doing to tackle poverty, and how ministers are working together to reduce the impact of deprivation.

In this new briefing, we have collected stories that describe how organisations from across Wales are working to reduce poverty, ill health and inequalities by breaking down barriers across health, social services, housing, the arts, benefits and welfare advice, transport, loneliness and isolation, climate change, air pollution and much more.

This follows Mind the gap, a major report from the Alliance and the RCP, which was endorsed by 50 organisations across Wales in July 2022. This called on the Welsh government to:

  • consolidate commitments on reducing inequalities and map out existing activity on public health, inequalities, poverty reduction and social security in one delivery plan, in order to improve accountability
  • provide more detailed national implementation guidance to local delivery bodies and introduce health impact assessment regulations as a priority
  • develop a shared set of performance measures focused on reducing inequalities and improve access to high-quality, robust data for evaluation
  • improve access to prevention programmes based in primary and community care, especially for those living in poverty, and invest in innovation, including screening programmes, vaccines and wearable technology
  • ensure that funding encourages collaboration and is linked to tackling inequalities and require regional partnership boards (RPBs) and public service boards (PSBs) to tackle inequalities.

Polling from the RCP has found that 74% of people in Wales feel increasingly worried about their ability to stay warm and healthy this winter and 70% are planning to use less heating in their home due to rising energy bills. 11% said they wouldn’t heat their home as needed, even if cold weather could make a member of their household unwell or exacerbate an existing health condition.

Dr Olwen Williams, RCP vice president for Wales said:

"Poverty causes ill health and illness on a massive scale. In fact, Audit Wales recently called it the single major challenge facing all tiers of government. We welcome the Welsh government’s commitment to reducing inequalities across a range of policy areas, but we now urge ministers to establish a cross-government taskforce, led by the first minister, to drive change at scale and pace. As the cost-of-living crisis takes hold, it’s more important than ever that we take a coordinated national approach to fighting poverty and health inequalities. For example, the rising cost of fuel means that more people will be living in cold homes, which in turn can cause and worsen respiratory conditions, cardiovascular diseases, poor mental health, dementia, hypothermia and problems with childhood development. This needs a national approach and coordinated cross-government action."