Raising a glass to health and prosperity and raising the game for localities

06 December 2018

Russell Jones, Consultant

As the Christmas season draws in and the new year is rapidly approaching, all over the country people are raising glasses to each other’s health, happiness, and prosperity. All admirable things to celebrate and all, no doubt, on the minds of public service leaders as we look to 2019.

This week, we have seen a flurry of reports from think tanks calling for place based action to improve outcomes for communities, including the Centre for Progressive Policy’s Beyond Sticking Plasters report and IPPR North’s annual State of the North and the RSA’s People, Public Services, Power, Place prospectus for research and action.

Although the reports differ in starting focus for their analysis, with Beyond Sticking Plasters’ looking primarily at health and care, and State of the North looking instead to economic development, both importantly and compellingly spell out the symbiotic relationship between health and economic prosperity.

Put simply: poor health outcomes adversely affect economic growth, productivity, and prosperity, while poor socioeconomic conditions negatively impact community and individual health. That health and prosperity are two sides of the same coin is backed up by a range of damning statistics highlighted by the authors:

  • Provision of healthcare accounts for only 10-43% of health outcomes and the rest is determined by other factors, including the socioeconomic environment and health behaviours.

  • Tackling the North’s health problems could generate an additional £13.2bn for the region per year.

  • People living in the most deprived neighbourhoods spend nearly a third of their lives in poor health and, on average, 19 years more than their peers in the least deprived neighbourhoods.

Investment in the NHS in isolation, then, cannot address these issues any more than they can be addressed solely by investment in economic infrastructure. Securing better health, wellbeing, and economic outcomes in 2019 will, instead, require investment in social infrastructure – skills and training, housing and care, culture and communities – to complement health and economic investment.

Moreover, to drive sustainable change we urgently need to redefine and renegotiate the social contract between individuals, businesses, and the state to change expectations and behaviours and tackle the ‘Giants’ facing the 21st century state.

Local leaders need to draw on local and regional powers creatively (including the often-underestimated power of convening) and co-create place-based visions and plans with communities and partners.

From our experience at PPL, we know that this is most effective when change is rooted in practical projects tackling cross-system issues, which grow to spread shared practice, cultures, and behaviours across the system: start today, describe tomorrow, create a better future.

The time for local and regional leaders to step up and lead these changes has never been more important. It’s not enough to raise a glass and hope for the best, to drive change leaders have to raise their game.