House of Commons research - MP slams Oldham’s 2021/22 public health budget freeze

Date published: 06 April 2021

Oldham East and Saddleworth MP Debbie Abrahams has warned that research by the House of Commons Library reveals that Oldham, and 99 other local councils, face a freeze of their public health budget.

The research, carried out for Labour, shows the 100 councils affected will receive no additional funding for public health budgets per person once funding for the anti-HIV drug pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is taken into account. 

Funding for PrEP has been allocated to local authorities from April 2021 to cover costs associated with its provision and services related to it.

Ms Abrahams said: “Ministers are failing to prioritise public health spending at a crucial moment in the fight against Covid as two thirds of local authorities will see their per person spending stay the same or fall this financial year.

“Investing in public health is vital to improve health outcomes and narrow inequalities yet, over recent years, the Tories have a cut £1 billion from public health budgets. 

“These cuts contributed to widening health inequalities and greater vulnerability to covid.

“The Government is failing to invest in public health services at a time when many of the areas with no increase to their budgets are fighting stubbornly high covid infection rates.

"The picture in Oldham, which at the beginning of April was an infection rate of around 108 per 100,000, is mirrored across many other parts of the North and Midlands.

“Cuts to public health funding will be a heavy blow to local authority public health teams, who have spent the past year working flat out to tackle the worst public health crisis in living memory. 

“Despite the cuts, local authorities have gained responsibility for vital work to control the spread of Covid-19, including local outbreak planning, and crucially, promotional work to support the vaccine rollout.”

The research shows: 

·       31 local authorities - 20 per cent - will experience a fall in per capita funding from 2020/2021 to 2021/2022. Of the Local Authorities that will see a cut in allocation, two fifths have case rates higher than the national average. 

·       69 local authorities - 46 per cent - will experience no increase in per capita funding. Of these, Barnsley, North Lincolnshire, Bradford, Sheffield, Blackburn and Darwen and Leicester all have case rates over double the national average and Rotherham’s rate reached triple this last week. Without additional support, there is a risk that these areas and other parts of the country could be left behind, unprotected and stuck in lockdown.

·       1 in 6 areas set to receive no increase in public health funding currently have case rates of over 100 per 100,000. 

·       Many of the areas that have seen their funding frozen or cut are Red Wall areas won by the Tories in the 2019 General Election, including Wakefield, Bury, Dudley, Redcar, Darlington.

Though it has been reported that the total allocation of public health funding for local authorities in 2021/2022 is £45.4 million higher than in 2020/21, Labour’s research has found that the uplift is in fact less than half that once added funding for roll out of PrEP has been taken into account.  

Ms Abrahams added: “A strong local public health response is crucial to getting on the front foot in the battle against covid in local areas. 

“Disgracefully the Tories are cutting or freezing on a head for head basis the budgets available for public health teams in 100 towns and communities.

"Many of these areas are more deprived, have more people suffering from long term illness or battling high infections rates.

“To fail to invest in public health is dangerous and irresponsible, risking communities being left behind and not fully protected. 

“Ministers promised to give councils the resources needed to protect their communities. 

“Rather than cutting budgets, ministers should keep their promise and give towns like Oldham, Hartlepool, Wakefield and Rochdale the resources they need to drive infections down and vaccination rates up.” 

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