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Government set to ignore complaints over ‘short-sighted’ public health cuts

Government set to ignore complaints over ‘short-sighted’ public health cuts

🕔12.Aug 2015

The Government will take no notice of complaints from local councils that a £200 million cut in public health spending will have the greatest impact on poorer families because it is “too complex” to devise a fairer way of imposing the savings.

The Department of Health says its preferred option is to impose an across the board cut of 6.2 per cent on all local authorities and not to make any allowance for local conditions.

That means densely populated urban areas where unhealthy lifestyle problems tend to be worse would suffer a disproportionate level of cuts, council leaders have warned.

Town Halls say the cut is short sighted because preventative health services aimed at encouraging people to live healthier lives will save councils and the NHS money in the long run.

If the DoH persists with an across the board reduction Birmingham city council would see the amount it has to spend on anti-smoking and drinking campaigns and reducing the teenage pregnancy rate cut by £6 million a year.

In a consultation paper the DoH says it would be too difficult to devise a system of savings with the potential to provide “additional sensitivity to local needs”.

Birmingham council hit out at the proposals, warning that a budget shortfall of £6 million would halt preventative services that support the most vulnerable citizens.

Cabinet member for health and social care Cllr Paulette Hamilton said:

The Government is determined to pursue these damaging cuts, but the least they can do is reflect that not all local authorities face the same challenges.

In Birmingham we face major health inequalities and have many more challenges than other areas, especially the more affluent parts of the country. Take life expectancy for example – it’s shocking that someone born in inner-city Birmingham can expect to live on average eight years less than someone born in the wealthier suburbs.

So the preventative work undertaken by our public health team is vital if we’re going to continue tackling those inequalities.

An across the board cut will inevitably mean less preventative work, hitting the poorest hardest. In the long-term that will have disastrous consequences and I have no doubt that these short-sighted cuts will end up costing the government, local authorities and the NHS far more than is saved.

The £200 million national public health spending saving is part of the Chancellor’s search for further austerity cuts.

In its consultation paper the DoH puts forward four options:

  • Devise a formula that claims a larger share of the saving from local authorities that are significantly above their target allocation.
  • Identify local authorities that carried forward unspent reserves into 2015-16 and claim a correspondingly larger share of the savings from them.
  • Reduce every allocation by a standard, flat rate of 6.2 per cent.
  • Reduce every allocation by a standard percentage unless an authority can show that this would result in particular hardship and would be incompatible with the Secretary of State’s duties under the NHS Act 2006, in particular the duty to have regard to the need to reduce inequalities between people with regard to the benefits they can receive from public health services.

The DoH says subject to the outcome of the consultation its preferred option is an across the board cut of 6.2 per cent because

it is the simplest and most transparent option to implement and would enable the Department to provide local authorities quickly with certainty on what would be required of them.

Taking hardship levels into account would provide additional sensitivity to local needs but would be “considerably more complex to implement and depends on the provision by local authorities of clear evidence to identify confidently a finite number of genuinely exceptional local circumstances”, the DoH consultation paper adds.

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