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A decade of public spending cuts meant the north of England was hit harder by the coronavirus pandemic than the rest of England, scientists have said.
A report by the Northern Health Science Alliance, made up of academics from several leading universities, says the economic cost to the region of excess mortality from Covid-19 was at least £6.89bn.
It found that 57.7 more people per 100,000 died in the north of England than in the rest of the country between March and July.
Clare Bambra, a professor of public health at Newcastle University, said: “Our report highlights that we are not all in the pandemic together, with the northern regions being hardest hit. Health and wealth in the northern powerhouse lagged behind the rest of the country even before the Covid pandemic, and over the last year our significant regional inequalities have been exacerbated.”
Huge swaths of the north had been living under local restrictions for weeks when England’s national lockdown was imposed on 5 November.
The north-west of England and Yorkshire and Humber still have the highest infection rates in the country, according to the most recent data from the Office for National Statistics. An estimated 2.24% of people in the north-west had Covid-19 at the end of October – the equivalent of 158,669 people – compared with 0.82% in London.
The report was led by scientists from Newcastle University, the University of Manchester, University of York and University of Liverpool.
It says a decade of public spending cuts under the Conservative government’s austerity programme left parts of the north of England more vulnerable to a public health disaster like Covid-19. It estimates that the pandemic’s impact on the region’s mental health will cost around £5bn a year.
Child health, a key predictor of lifelong health and economic productivity, was “poor and deteriorating” in the region before the pandemic, it says, and since March “adverse trends in poverty, education, employment and mental health for children and young people have been exacerbated”.
Hannah Davies, of the alliance, said: “Health inequalities between the north and the rest of England have been growing for over a decade. This report demonstrates the impact that has had on the productivity of the region and how it has led Covid-19 to take a devastating grip on the north.”
The report offers 12 recommendations for how to “level up” the country, including renewing efforts to tackle child poverty and launching a £1bn ringfenced fund to tackle the region’s health inequalities.
It also calls for the government to prioritise disadvantaged communities in the north with the rollout of any Covid-19 vaccine, which could begin as soon as next month, and hand more control of test and trace to local leaders.
The chancellor, Rishi Sunak, is said to have told the region’s Conservative MPs this week that the government was ready to pump significant new infrastructure funding into the north to aid its recovery.
Sunak, the MP for the North Yorkshire constituency of Richmond, is said to have thrown his support behind a special package of financial support for northern businesses when he addressed members of the Northern Research Group, a new caucus of 54 Conservative MPs, on Monday night.
Henri Murison, the director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, which is chaired by the former chancellor George Osborne, said: “We cannot ignore evidence that Covid-19 has had a vastly disproportionate effect, and so it’s essential we prioritise the clinically vulnerable and deprived communities when it comes to the rollout of the vaccine.”
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Austerity left north of England more vulnerable to Covid, report says | UK news