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Member blog – Bridging worlds: making the case for greater cooperation across economic development and health


The Health Foundation is a slightly unusual member of the Institute of Economic Development (IED) in that we don’t actually work in economic development or regeneration.

So why are we members? The rationale is that the work which members of the IED undertake is critical if we are to achieve our mission of a healthier population for all. Your work is perhaps just as important in achieving good population health as that of an individual doctor or nurse. That sounds counterintuitive but health care (while obviously important) is only one of many factors that keep us healthy.

Other factors (known as the social determinants of health) include access to education, work and leisure conditions and the environment people live in. These influences are strongly shaped by government policy, including economic, social, housing and planning policies. The social determinants are not distributed equally leading to pervasive and entrenched health inequalities. For example, from 2014 to 2016, the gap in healthy life expectancy at birth between local areas with highest and lowest average health life expectancy was 18.4 years for females and 15.6 years for males.

The health of a population has a complex, multi-directional relationship with other social and economic outcomes. Good health is, of course, valuable to individuals but it is also a societal asset which can help enable people and places to flourish. When seen as such, health takes a position as an important aspect of social infrastructure. Healthier children have better educational outcomes, which impact productivity in adulthood and a healthy working-age population can lead to economic prosperity by being more engaged and productive.

It is rare (particularly at a national level) to see comprehensive multi-sector approaches to policy-making where the interplay between health and economic considerations are fully considered. But inclusive growth might be a policy initiative that can provide a bridge between health and economic development.

Tapping into the inclusive growth agenda has the potential to facilitate mutually beneficial action across economic development and health sectors. The World Economic Forum’s virtuous cycle of inclusive growth shows a self-reinforcing cycle in which rising economic output and social inclusion support each other. OECD research, meanwhile, has outlined that health is a critical component of inclusive growth, both as a major dimension of wellbeing in itself and because of its two-way relationship with income, employment and other key aspects of living standards.

There are tangible examples where inclusive growth has been used as a bridge between health and economic development. Internationally, the city of Malmö, Sweden has been highlighted as an exemplar for its work to embed a ‘health in all policies’ approach as well as its attempts to create a more inclusive economy. This dual focus on people and place has the potential to be a powerful policy lever for change.

Here in the UK, The Inclusive Economy Partnership is a government initiative that is attempting to change the way that government, business and civil society work to address major challenges to help all communities and everyone within them to belong to and participate in the UK economy. One of the three core priorities is mental health and the partnership has launched a number of collaborative projects and is supporting social innovators to scale their work. One of the innovation projects is to develop a set of standards for companies when dealing with vulnerable customers.

At a local level, there appears to be an increasing interest from public health teams in inclusive growth. The Luton Annual Public Health Report 2018 and the 2017 Annual Public Health Report in Suffolk both demonstrate that there can be strong and valuable links with mutually beneficial activity across departments. As an example, the Luton report references the Luton Investment Framework as a means to improve the health of the population and to reduce health inequalities.

However, collaboration isn’t necessarily easy – even when based within the same organisation. For example, research by the New Local Government Network found that only 12.8% of public health directors in England felt their economic development departments were very engaged with the work they were doing.

At The Health Foundation, our Healthy Lives Strategy aims to mobilise cross-sector action to improve health and reduce health inequalities. As part of this, I am currently developing a programme of work to promote interlinkages across health and economic development looking at international, national and place-based considerations. At the local level some of the questions we want to explore are:

  • How can local areas best take advantage of emerging employment opportunities as a route to inclusive growth?
  • What role does business play in promoting inclusive growth within the communities in which they are based? To what extent is this role health enhancing?
  • How do we ensure that adoption of changing and new jobs roles (and the loss of existing roles) due to technological change do not exacerbate existing socio-economic and health inequalities?

I would be delighted to hear from any IED members who are interested in shaping this work.

Emma Spencelayh is Senior Policy Advisor at The Health Foundation. Emma can be contacted at Emma.Spencelayh@health.org.uk

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