Politics

Communities with high virus rates 'left behind' due to Tory public health cuts



Communities struggling with stubbornly high virus rates risk being “left behind” due to public health cuts, Labour has warned.

Analysis by the House of Commons Library found two thirds of local authorities (100) will see per person spending frozen or cut this financial year compared to 2020/2021.

One in five (31) would see their budgets slashed.

The analysis looked at the state of town hall budgets once dedicated cash for anti-HIV drug PrEP was taken into account.

The vital medicine is available through local authority public health services for the first time this year so it cannot be compared to previous years.

Town halls get ring-fenced cash for public health measures such sexual health, substance abuse and stop smoking services.

They have also now been tasked with battling the virus, including testing and outbreak planning.

Public health budgets have been boosted by £45million since last year, but the uplift is less than half that (£22.4million) once PrEP funding is stripped out, the analysis found.

Some 31 local authorities (20%), including areas like Wakefield and Doncaster, will see a cut to per capita spending this year. Two fifths of these areas have Covid case rates higher than the national average.

And 69 councils (46%) will experience a freeze in per capita funding. Of these, Barnsley, North Lincolnshire, Bradford, Sheffield, Blackburn and Darwen and Leicester all have case rates over double the national average.

Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth said ministers were failing to prioritise public health spending at a crucial moment in the pandemic.

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On a visit to Hartlepool today, Mr Ashworth will say: “A strong local public health response is crucial to getting on the front foot in the battle against Covid in local areas.

“Disgracefully the Tories are cutting or freezing on a head for head basis the budgets available for public health teams in 100 towns and communities.

“Many of these areas are more deprived, have more people suffering from long term illness or battling high infection rates.

“To fail to invest in public health is dangerous and irresponsible, risking communities being left behind and not fully protected.”

The analysis was based on 149 local authorities awarded funding in 2020/21 and 2021/22.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We are providing extensive support for Directors of Public Health, and their teams, to protect and improve the public’s health and wellbeing during the current pandemic, and beyond.

“As well as making over £11 billion of funding available to local councils to support them with the costs and impacts of Covid-19, we are increasing the public health grant in 2021/22. This will ensure local authorities can continue to invest in prevention and essential frontline health services.”





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