A major new programme designed to make Leeds a fairer and healthier place to live has been formally launched with a visit to the city by a world-renowned academic, researcher and campaigner.
Leeds City Council and University College London’s Institute of Health Equity (IHE) are spearheading the two-year project, which will tackle health inequalities and the part they play in causing illness and lowered life expectancy.
Using evidence gathered over many years by IHE director and leading epidemiologist Professor Sir Michael Marmot, the programme will aim to ensure that people’s ‘social determinants’ – effectively the circumstances in which they are born, grow, live, work and age – give them the right building blocks for good health.
Helping to provide these building blocks fairly – for everyone, everywhere – will, it is hoped, narrow the health divide that exists between the city’s richest and poorest areas.
Key policy objectives include giving every child the best start in life, delivering fair employment for all and creating healthy and sustainable communities with good quality housing.
And today (12 June 2023) Sir Michael was in Leeds to launch the programme with a speech to a 150-strong audience of local health leaders and other prominent figures.
The event, held in the banqueting suite at Leeds Civic Hall, was opened by Councillor James Lewis, leader of Leeds City Council. He told the audience:
“We cannot and we must not shy away from the fact that many of our communities experience poor physical and mental health and [people] are living shorter lives than they should.
“We also know that whilst people in the poorest neighbourhoods often have the worst health, there are challenges right across the city.
“Health is linked to a wide range of factors outside healthcare, including housing, employment, education and the communities we live in.
“That is why we are joining forces with Professor Sir Michael Marmot and his team. Working together will mean we can be assured that we are doing everything we can possibly do in Leeds to improve health by addressing the underlying causes of inequalities.”
Other speakers included Councillor Salma Arif, the council’s executive member for adult social care, public health and active lifestyles, and Councillor Fiona Venner, the council’s executive member for children’s social care and health partnerships.
A panel discussion was also held, with council chief executive Tom Riordan and Victoria Eaton, the council’s director of public health, joining representatives from the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, NHS West Yorkshire Integrated Care Board and the GIPSIL health and housing charity.
During his keynote address, Sir Michael said he was “absolutely delighted” to be working with Leeds and “excited” to see what the next two years would bring.
He told the audience:
“People’s usual default position when thinking about health inequalities is, ‘you must be talking about inequalities of access to healthcare’. No, we’re not – inequalities of access to care are extremely important, but we are concerned with the social determinants.”
“If you are rich, it doesn’t much matter where you live. The poorer you are, the more it matters, the bigger the disadvantage of living in the North East, North West, Yorkshire and the Humber and beyond.”
Sir Michael’s thinking – highlighted by his landmark UK government-commissioned report Fair Society, Healthy Lives – has shaped public policy in countries as far afield as Holland, Norway and Brazil.
In Leeds, the Marmot programme will both complement and build upon the work already being done locally to improve the health of people of all backgrounds, particularly those from disadvantaged communities.
The council’s existing Health and Wellbeing Strategy sets out an ambition to bring the fastest change to those most in need, for example through the implementation of housing projects providing affordable, warm and secure homes.
Yet research has shown that – like other big cities – Leeds continues to be affected by health inequalities which were deepened by the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, with sizeable differences in life expectancy between its richest and poorest neighbourhoods.
By joining forces with the IHE, the council will now be able to draw on the added expertise of the Marmot team at University College London as it seeks to deal with those inequalities.
The new link-up will also help prioritise local resources, guide commissioning and inform bids for relevant funding, all with the support of partners from the NHS, academia and the third sector.
The collaboration means Leeds is now a ‘Marmot city’, a title which confirms its status as a place where systems and structures have been strategically planned with a view to tackling inequalities. The country’s other Marmot cities and regions include Coventry, Cheshire & Merseyside and Gwent.
Councillor Salma Arif, Leeds City Council’s executive member for adult social care, public health and active lifestyles, said:
“Our new partnership with Sir Michael and the Institute of Health Equity is a really significant development, and one that I’m sure will have a positive impact on many lives.
“We’re proud of the work we have done over the years to try to ensure Leeds is a city where no one gets left behind, but we also know there is more to do.
“This collaboration with Sir Michael and his team will mean we are better placed than ever to achieve our goal of reducing health inequality, building an inclusive economy and creating safer, stronger communities.”
Councillor Fiona Venner, Leeds City Council’s executive member for children’s social care and health partnerships, said:
“It was a real privilege to welcome Sir Michael and so many other distinguished guests to Leeds Civic Hall for the launch event.
“It was a day filled with important messages, not least regarding the crucial part that fairness has to play in realising the council’s Best City Ambition – our vision for a Leeds that is compassionate and caring with a strong economy.
“Partnership working has long been a key driver of our efforts to improve health and wellbeing across the city, and I look forward to seeing how the Marmot programme helps us secure even better results.”
This post is based on a press release issued by Leeds City Council
Photo: Professor Sir Michael Marmot speaking at Leeds Civic Hall
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