Last week the UK government confirmed that the Health Disparities White Paper has been dropped. The White Paper has now been replaced with the Major Conditions Strategy that combines “key commitments in mental health, cancer, dementia and health disparities into a single, powerful strategy.”
Responding to the announcement, People’s Health Trust’s Chief Executive, John Hume said: “We are deeply disappointed that the Health Disparities White Paper will no longer be published. While we support the consideration of health inequalities in the Major Conditions Strategy, we strongly believe that health inequalities requires its own cross-departmental strategy to reduce the gap in life expectancy and quality of health between the most and least disadvantaged communities.”
By combining these broad projects, there is a high risk of watering down commitments, and a lack of focus on the systemic issues that cause ill health and early death. We urge the government reconsider developing a stand-alone cross-Whitehall strategy on health inequalities with the socio-economic factors behind this inequality at the centre. During a cost of living crisis in the aftermath of a pandemic, it has never been more essential for government to take a coordinated approach to address factors such as quality housing, good jobs, clean and green local environments and strong social connections, which act as the building blocks of health. It is when these are lacking that people are locked into poor health cycles including those listed in the Major Conditions Strategy, but also many more. Without a health inequalities strategy addressing the socio-economic factors, we do not believe the government will be able to reduce the widening gap in healthy life expectancy and life expectancy.