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West Midlands Levelling Up Growth Prospectus

Health Inequalities

The Challenge

Health and wealth are two sides of the same coin. A weak economy, low wages, and poor educational outcomes are a recipe for poor health. Equally, an unhealthy, unhappy population is unlikely to drive economic productivity. So, tackling health inequalities in the region is fundamental to levelling up. 

Across the West Midlands, both life expectancy and healthy life expectancy remain lower than the national average. The West Midlands Health of the Region report, published in response to the pandemic, showed this has been further exposed and exacerbated by Covid.

The Prize

A happier and healthier population which is more resilient to future pandemics, through adoption of a ‘radical prevention’ approach. 

Radical prevention means acting as a whole system to tackle the underlying causes of poor health and health inequalities (the ‘causes of the causes’). It moves us to a more person- and community-centred approach to health and wellbeing. 

Radical prevention also involves demanding more inclusive economic growth which can reduce health inequalities. This can be done through:

  • Improving access to employment
  • Raising incomes
  • Increasing community safety
  • Improving housing quality and affordability
  • Raising aspirations and improving educational outcomes
  • Providing a high-quality local environment and green space
  • Enhancing social relationships and connectedness
  • Increasing opportunities for participation.


Levelling Up Mission:

By 2030, the gap in Healthy Life Expectancy (HLE) between local areas where it is highest and lowest will have narrowed, and by 2035 HLE will rise by five years.

By 2030, wellbeing will have improved in every area of the UK, with the gap between top performing and other areas closing.


Progress So Far…

While the WMCA doesn’t have any devolved or statutory responsibilities for health, our Health and Wellbeing Board has overseen a range of programmes that have aimed to tackle regional health inequalities. 

The Health of the Region report brought partners together from across the health system to make over 50 commitments aimed at improving health outcomes for ethnic minorities, tackling the wider determinants of health, and widening access to health and care services. 

We have supported community-centred approaches to promoting physical activity, working closely with Sport England and with Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) on walking, cycling and other active community projects. 

We have also developed the ‘Include Me WM’ programme to support disabled people to be more active. And through the ‘Thrive Into Work’ programme we have supported over 3,700 people with mental health challenges and disabilities into sustainable employment through Individual Placement Support (IPS).

Our Proposal

To continue to explore new ways for the WMCA to maximise its regional action to tackle health inequality and use its existing functions more effectively in improving poor health in areas such as planning consent for fast-food takeaways, tobacco prevention and engaging disabled people in physical activity;

To create a Radical Health Prevention Fund to unlock innovative, digital approaches to health prevention and become a national pathfinder for an electronic shared patient care record by integrating different types of data to enable more person-centred, holistic care;

To extend the devolution of the Work and Health IPS programme to new places and other cohorts of unemployed people, to develop an IPS Academy to train IPS advisers, and pilot new support for the voluntary sector workforce for prevention.

What We Hope to Achieve

  • Reduce the size of the gap in healthy life expectancy between the West Midlands and the national average by 1.2 years by 2030.
  • Reverse the downward trend in life satisfaction.
  • Reduce the percentage of local wards where the exposure to PM 2.5 air pollution is above safe levels.