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Withholding of health-inequalities White Paper ‘tough to swallow’ says Bishop of London

12 October 2022

Diocese of London

The Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, presents the HIAG report in the Old Deanery, near St Paul’s Cathedral, on Monday

The Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, presents the HIAG report in the Old Deanery, near St Paul’s Cathedral, on Monday

FAITH groups have a key part to play in narrowing health inequalities, a report by a group led by the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, says. It urges the Government to publish a White Paper on health disparities as soon as possible.

The report, On Faith, Place and Health: Harnessing the power of faith groups to tackle London’s health inequalities, was published on Monday by the Health Inequalities Action Group (HIAG), which Bishop Mullally leads, after a year-long consultation with faith groups in London.

Its first recommendation is for the Government to publish its White Paper on health disparities, which was promised by Boris Johnson’s government, but which reports this week suggested had been shelved. A spokesperson for the Department for Health and Social Care told The Guardian, however, that it had not been “scrapped”, and that the Government was “committed to improving the health of the nation so that everyone can live longer, healthier lives”.

The HIAG’s other recommendations include: that faith groups be able to access the same funding as other civil-society groups; that councils adopt the Faith Covenant code of practice “to partner with faith communities in faith-health interventions”; and the creation of an Interfaith Health Council.

The report defines health inequalities as “differences in people’s health status that are systematic, unfair and avoidable”. It says that people who live in deprived areas live shorter lives, spend more of their lives experiencing ill health, and have less access to health care than people who live in more affluent areas.

Health inequalities are particularly pronounced in London, the report says: the city has “the biggest gap in life expectancy between local authorities of any region in England”. The rate of early deaths from preventable causes in Tower Hamlets, for example, is twice as high as in the City of London, it reports. “But inequalities do not simply lead to people dying prematurely. They also unnecessarily undermine people’s quality of life.”

The pandemic “made health inequalities more visible and emphasised the importance of local, yet holistic, approaches”, it says. “It also highlighted the importance of faith institutions as sources of practical and spiritual support for communities under stress.”

Bishop Mullally, a former Chief Nursing Officer for England, said on Monday: “My experience serving in the National Health Service and the Church of England has led me to the belief that co-operation between faith communities and public-health institutions is potentially transformational.

“Today’s report . . . provides an overwhelming evidential basis to that claim, and should remind us all to never take for granted the support [that] communities here in our capital — which are so beset with increasingly visible health inequalities — derive from faith and other civil-society organisations.

“In the quest for health-outcome improvement, we can leave no one behind. That is why recent reports of the shelving of the Government’s Health Disparities White Paper are tough to swallow.”

To read the report, visit bishopoflondon.org

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