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Health impact of spending decisions

10 December 2010

Health impact of spending decisions

Researchers at Cardiff University have reviewed the impact of the current economic downturn on mental and physical health.

Drawing on the lessons of previous economic downturns the report, published by the Wales Health Impact Assessment Support Unit - a partnership between Cardiff University and Public Health Wales – urges policymakers to consider how best to protect people’s health and well-being whilst making difficult decisions over spending.

The report sets out that public spending austerity measures are likely to impact on people’s lives in an uneven way. In particular young people are the age group most likely to suffer in the long run. Whilst uncertainty about jobs and income is likely to result in an increase in mild to moderate mental health problems, cuts in services and changes to the benefits system mean that people with serious mental health problems are also vulnerable. The researchers argue that the test of how well political administrations respond to such crises will be the extent to which the health and well being of its populations are protected.

Dr Eva Elliott, Cardiff Institute of Society and Health said: "The lesson of previous downturns is that the social and associated health impacts can lag long after what can be a relatively short period of economic recession. These effects can also be uneven and affect particular groups in the population and people living in particular places more than others. In South Wales people are still dealing with the emotional and physical wounds which are the legacy of rapid re-industrialisation in the 1980s and we need to be prepared this time round."

The report recommendations include:

  • the development of active labour market programmes, underpinned by evaluation, that support people entering, re-entering or staying in satisfactory employment in parallel to maintaining and generating good health,
  • protecting and developing services intended to support vulnerable children and young people,
  • addressing personal debt through the regulation of doorstep lenders, promoting other sources of credit and protecting advice services,
  • providing effective mental health support at primary care and community levels,
  • for health services, local authorities and the third sector to identify mechanisms which pool resources across localities for maximum health benefit, and
  • for the impacts of social and economic change to be monitored

The study was funded by the Welsh Assembly Government. The paper published online reviews the health impact of past recessions and their aftermaths, as well as undertaking case studies in two contrasting local authority areas, and includes evidence from discussions with a small group of policy makers and service leads with national and local responsibilities.

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