Experts call for health focus in spring budget

Experts call for health focus in spring budget

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has been urged to address the UK’s ‘poor track record of preventing ill health’ as part of the upcoming spring budget.

On 24 February, 60 leading health experts wrote a letter to Jeremy Hunt encouraging him to make public health a central focus of the spring budget, which is set to be released in March. They described the UK public’s health as ‘worrying’, emphasising that poor health is ‘one of the greatest fiscal threats we face’.

The letter puts forward the detrimental impact of long-term illness on the workforce as a major economic issue. It says: ‘New ONS data shows that 2.8 million people are currently out of the labour market because of long-term illness.’

The contributors suggested that preventing poor health should be a priority for the government. In particular, they said poor diets, alcohol, tobacco and gambling were causing the ‘vast majority’ of health problems affecting the economy.

The letter urges the government to ‘see health intervention as an investment, not a cost’. It says: ‘As much as this is a challenge, it is also an opportunity. Bold new action to create healthy Britain is the clearest, untapped path to prosperity we have.’

As part of the spring budget, the experts recommend that the government issue a formal call for evidence around financial and non-financial policy options that could improve public health.

‘The UK has become the sick man of Europe’

The letter is signed by representatives from organisations including the British Medical Association and the Royal Society for Public Health. Also represented are charities dedicated to specific health issues including addiction, obesity and heart disease. Celebrity chefs Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Thomasina Miers are among the signatures.

One of the organisations which contributed to the letter is Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR). Speaking to The Times, the head of the IPPR’s commission on health and prosperity Chris Thomas said: ‘The UK has become the literal sick man of Europe. This is harming people’s job prospects and wages — and in turn, harming our economic performance.

‘The spring budget is an opportunity for the chancellor to go big on public health; decisively tackle crises like obesity, alcohol, smoking and mouldy homes; and chart an innovative new path to prosperity.’

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