Bad health blackspot warning for Birmingham as city among worst performing for sickness and unemployment

Birmingham has been named as one of the worst performing areas for health and economic activity in England and Wales, as a think tank warns of the growth of ‘bad health blackspots’ across the country.

Birmingham has been named as one of the worst performing areas for health and economic activity in England and Wales, as a think tank warns of the growth of ‘bad health blackspots’ across the country.

A new analysis by the Institute for Public Policy Research found areas with higher sickness rates are associated with lower productivity, high poverty and more economic inactivity.

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It proposes new health and prosperity improvement (HAPI) zones, that “would serve as an innovative response to growing poverty and ill-health”. The figures show 7.4% of people in Birmingham reported bad or very bad health as of the 2021 Census, or more than one in 20.

Meanwhile, 35.1% of all 739,135 adults in the workforce in the area were economically inactive during the same period – one of the highest rates across England and Wales.

This meant Birmingham was ranked 323rd for health and economic activity out of 330 local authorities. The IPPR said its analysis shows people living in the most deprived areas are nearly one and a half times more likely to experience economic inactivity and are twice as likely to be in poor health than those in the least deprived authorities.

People living in these areas are also more likely to experience worse levels of productivity, material deprivation, child poverty, unemployment, and household income.

Birmingham named as one of the worst performing areas for health and economic activity in England and WalesBirmingham named as one of the worst performing areas for health and economic activity in England and Wales
Birmingham named as one of the worst performing areas for health and economic activity in England and Wales
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Professor Donna Hall CBE, IPPR commissioner, said: “People working within local government and health services are trapped by a lack of resources, support and agency to serve their local population. People feel unheard and their health is suffering.

“The new HAPI zones would serve as an innovative response to growing poverty and ill-health, put power into the hands of local leaders and ignite local ownership over the future of public health.”

Separate figures show the healthy life expectancy in Birmingham was 59.2 years for males and 60.2 for females in 2018 to 2020. This was a 15.5-year gap with Rutland, the healthiest area for males, and 10.9 years with Wokingham, which was the healthiest for females.

Efua Poku-Amanfo, research fellow at the IPPR, said: “The case for government spending and action on health is clear. It’s not just the morally right thing to do, it’s the economically sensible thing to do.

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“Bad health blackspots, especially in the North East and North West of England and the South of Wales, are stifling national economic growth and holding back the wealth and health of the nation.”

Alice Martin, head of research at the Work Foundation at Lancaster University, said there was a proven link between good health and secure work. She said: “Job security plays an important role in health outcomes, insecure work can be linked to higher levels of depression, anxiety and self-reported ill-health.

“It is time to move away from pushing people into ‘any job’, and instead the Government needs to work with local leaders to improve job quality in their area - and ensure jobseekers are supported into secure and sustainable roles.”

A government spokesperson said:“We are committed to increasing healthy life expectancy by five years by 2035 and narrowing the gap between local areas by 2030 including by investing up to £14.1 billion to improve health services and help people live longer, healthier lives.

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“Our Major Conditions Strategy will look at the prevention and management of conditions responsible for over 60% of ill health and our plans for a smokefree generation will make a significant difference with people in more deprived areas almost twice as likely to die for smoking related conditions.

“Our Back to Work Plan will also help up to a further 1.1 million people to look for and stay in work that’s suited to their needs including through integrated mental health support such as NHS Talking Therapies.”