The pandemic has widened health inequalities and we must do things differently to create a better society, says West Yorkshire mayor Tracy Brabin

A report exposing huge inequalities in the way the pandemic has affected the country shows "we must now do things differently if we are to create a society and economy that works for us all", says West Yorkshire's metro mayor.

Tracy Brabin said the findings of a new review which revealed that Greater Manchester had a 25 per cent increased Covid-19 mortality rate compared to England, "will be recognised by many people in our own region".

She said: “This report shows how COVID-19 has exposed and amplified inequalities of health and wealth in our communities, no more so than in West Yorkshire."

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Two years to tackle health inequalities before they are hardwired into a generat...
Tracy Brabin said the findings of a new review which revealed that Greater Manchester had a 25 per cent increased Covid-19 mortality rate compared to England, "will be recognised by many people in our own region".

Sir Michael Marmot, Professor of Epidemiology at University College London (UCL), said local authorities will not wait for central Government to act to tackle inequality following a "jaw-dropping" fall in life expectancy. But it is "vitally important" they are supported with enough central funding to improve outcomes, he said.

Prof Marmot said the Government should heed the report produced by UCL's Institute of Health Equity (IHE) and commissioned by the Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership.

And former Labour MP Ms Brabin, who was elected as West Yorkshire mayor last month, said it was "simply unacceptable that people on the lowest incomes been left exposed to the ravages of the pandemic.

She said: "A decade of austerity has stripped public services to the bone, poked holes in our social security safety net, and left our NHS underfunded. That statutory sick pay remains at such a low a level that does not allow people to effectively self-isolate is nothing short of a scandal."

Ms Brabin said the review showed how "the pandemic has had a huge impact on our young people, especially in terms of unemployment and the poor mental health".

And she added: "Here in West Yorkshire, out of work benefit claims for those aged between 16-24 had increased by 116 per cent in July 2020 compared with January 2020.

"Although they have dipped slightly since, the number of young people claiming out of work benefits in May 2021 was double the number seen in January 2020.

"If we are ever to truly to recover from the pandemic and ensure the younger generation can reclaim what they’ve lost over the past 15 months, then we have to invest in their futures."

She concluded: "Across the North of England, we know all too well about the disparities in investment and wealth, and it is my mission to close the gaps that are felt so strongly between different communities at every level of our society. We need genuine and tangible structural change.

"There are no quick fixes. We need long-term solutions from a regional level, as we are the ones that know our communities best and understand what matters to them most.

"As well as the urgent renewal of ‘hard’ infrastructure such as our creaking transport system, we also need much more government investment in things like skills, education and training which can help unlock talent and drive the inclusive economic recovery our region needs."

Speaking during a briefing to launch the new report, Prof Marmot said: "I'd like to think what we are doing in Greater Manchester will be very important for Greater Manchester, but will also potentially provide a blueprint for the rest of the country.

"If we are serious about levelling up, this is the way to do it. And if the Government doesn't get active, what they'll find is that local governments all around the country are doing it.

"The time to do it is now, the reason for doing it is to create greater equity of health and wellbeing."

The recommendations include more support for children and young people, rebalancing spending to focus more on prevention, more local power and control, and developing equity targets to monitor progress.

In a Lords debate yesterday, Minister Baroness Penn defended the Government's approach and said it had "put a renewed emphasis on prevention in their approach to tackling health inequalities".

She added: "That is taking place over a number of areas—for example, in the new obesity strategy and the smoking cessation strategy—that will help us close this gap, which is too wide and something we should all be concerned about."