The roadmap out of lockdown that the Prime Minister announced earlier this week will naturally have a lot of us thinking beyond this pandemic and furiously making plans for the second half of 2021, when hopefully life will be back to something like normal. To be honest, I think that’s fair enough – it’s been a really tough year and we all deserve to look forward to the end of this terrible crisis.
However, the pandemic has shone a light on all sorts of issues in our country that have sadly been under-reported previously, including holiday hunger, poverty pay, the digital divide and health inequalities. The last of these gets mentioned a lot, but I’m not sure that it’s always very well explained. Essentially, the issue is that different groups have different levels of health based on a wide range of factors, including the availability and quality of care and treatments, education about health risks and things like housing quality.
One of the most obvious indicators of the massive inequality in health in the UK is life expectancy. Tamesiders can expect to live around 2 years less than the English average, and health problems tend to start sooner. For instance, men in Richmond-upon-Thames in south west London live healthily an average of 10 years more than men in Tameside.
But it’s not just about differences between Tameside and more affluent boroughs elsewhere in England – there are huge differences within the borough too. Life expectancy is 10 years lower for men and 8 years lower for women in the most deprived areas of our borough than in the least deprived areas.
I am happy to say that Tameside Council – in particular, the Executive Member for Adult Social Care and Population Health, Cllr Eleanor Wills and her team – has a really strong focus on reducing health inequalities. It’s been essential to their thinking in dealing with the pandemic, which nationally has seen higher mortality rates in more deprived areas. I wrote a few weeks ago about the success of the vaccination programme in Tameside and I’m delighted to say that it continues to go from strength to strength. Vaccination brings down both hospitalisations and deaths, so its successful roll-out is key to tackling the health inequalities that this crisis has brought about.
The end of the lockdown will leave us with a range of public health challenges and dealing with these will be key to ensuring that inequalities in health don’t grow. Together I think we can meet this challenge.