‘Wake-up call’ as report lays bare devastating impact of poverty on health in County Durham and Tees Valley

Posted: 27th July 2023

A shocking new report has laid bare how children in County Durham and the Tees Valley are much more likely to be admitted to A&E, child poverty rates have rocketed and almost a quarter of people in County Durham are living with serious and chronic illnesses.

The report – County Durham and Tees Valley: Health, Wealth and (Unequal) Opportunities to Thrive – has been produced by the Durham Community Foundation and research group Health Equity North. It highlights how inequality has had a “huge” impact and led to higher levels of poverty, poor health, and reduced life expectancy.

Authored by public health experts Clare Bambra, Luke Munford, Amy Barnes, Tim Price and Hannah Davies, the new report highlights how “the current economic chaos is deepening already long-term problems” in the area. It also argues that poverty is the “main driver” of the growing divide which sees imbalances in health and wellbeing between County Durham, Tees Valley and the rest of the UK.

On the back of the report, figures including the Bishop of Durham the Rt Rev’d Paul Butler have called for more to be done locally and nationally to address the divide. The report makes ten recommendations, including that community foundations are given a role distributing funding from “dormant assets”, that Government commits to ensuring benefits rise in line with inflation, and speeds up Universal Credit, and that the two child cap on child benefits is removed.

Other recommendations include expanding free school meals, and boosting a “joined up approach” to address poverty, health inequalities and the cost of living crisis.

Frightening figures include that:

  • The proportion of the population in County Durham to be living with a life-limiting illness is almost a quarter (23.7%) higher than the national average.
  • The rate of emergency admissions for children under five years in County Durham is 35.6% higher than the national average – and 74.4% higher in Darlington.
  • 38.7% of children in County Durham and Tees Valley in poverty compared to 27% nationally.

Dr Michelle Cooper MBE, chief executive of the Durham Community Foundation – which is a grant-giving organisation supporting community groups and charities tackle poverty and inequality – explained why it had been vital to commission and publish the report.

She told ChronicleLive: “As you know, the data is shocking but in many ways we knew what it would look like because – as a community foundation – day in, day out, we are hearing from community groups sharing stories like these.

“Coming out of two years of Covid, we are seeing that yet again the North East is being ignored. We feel that we need to be more vocal about these issues and put County Durham and the Tees Valley on the map, albeit for the wrong reasons. But it’s vital to start talking about how we change this and how we help.

Dr Cooper said that, despite funding for charities being thin on the ground, her organisation had seen first-hand how when grassroots groups and charities get their hands on financial support, they can make tangible differences to the lives of the worst off. “We want to empower those grassroots charities. We have seen over the last three years what they can do with ad-hoc funding, imagine what what they could do with long-term strategic support.”

Groups such as the LADDER Centre in Ferryhill, Lifeline Community Action, and the Relief in Need programme are all featured in the report as examples of groups working efficiently to improve lives. Over recent months the Durham Community Foundation’s Poverty Hurts campaign has raised almost £1m to support those struggling.

Dr Cooper added: “As a Community Foundation, we’ve been working with charities and community groups on the frontline in County Durham and the Tees Valley for nearly 30 years. We know all too well the hardships and the entrenched poverty. But the question is, what are we going to do about it?

“This report sets out a series of recommendations that will give our region and communities a fighting chance to get out of the vicious cycle of poverty and make a brighter tomorrow a reality. We’re advocating for a common sense but urgent approach to give more resources and more funds to those local experts on the ground, who know what their communities need and can make it happen.”

She said there was “simply no time to waste” to reduce inequalities and help those living in the area to live full, healthy lives.

The Rt Revd Paul Butler, Bishop of Durham, added: “People living in County Durham and Tees Valley deserve the same opportunities as those elsewhere in the country. But this report clearly shows that this is not the case. It makes for shocking reading and exposes the harsh realities of inequality within the region.

“It is imperative it acts as a wake-up call for action for all across our society. I urge all policy makers, local and national, to read and implement the recommendations carefully.”

Dr Luke Munford and Professor Clare Bambra – both HEN academic directors – said the report should act as a warning to lawmakers. Dr Munford added: “County Durham and Tees Valley has a rich history, but it has faced many challenges over the years, from industrial decline to austerity-driven cuts, and more recently the impact of the pandemic and the current cost of living crisis. All this has resulted in people living in the area experiencing worse physical and mental health, lower life expectancy, and poorer life chances.”

Professor Clare Bambra continued: “There needs to be targeted place-based approaches implemented to address poverty, health inequalities and the cost of living crisis – all of which are hitting people in deprived areas much more severely.”

Hannah Davies, executive director of HEN, said: “The inequalities faced by people living in County Durham and the Tees Valley today are laid bare by this report. People in the region do not have the same opportunities to thrive as those elsewhere in the country. They may live in the same geographical country, but their experiences, opportunities and health are foreign to those living in different parts of England.

“And this report shows that their lives are on the precipice of getting much worse. Deprivation is one of the leading causes of ill-health and the current economic chaos is deepening already enduring crises of austerity, the pandemic and long-term economic downturn.

Source: ‘Wake-up call’ as report lays bare devastating impact of poverty on health in County Durham and Tees Valley – Chronicle Live

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