Tackling barriers to employment and health inequalities
By Sarah Wood and Mark Owen | 15th November 2023
Representatives of organisations from across the county got together this week for an employment, health, wellbeing and inequalities summit.
Nearly 100 people were at the event at Gloucester Rugby, pledging to start working even more closely together on helping people into work.
Vikki Walters, strategic lead for inclusive employment, Gloucestershire County Council, who organised the event, said: "People in the most deprived areas of Gloucestershire have a far lower life expectancy than those living in the least deprived areas.
"We know there is a link between poor health and unemployment, so if we get people jobs, we are going to improve the life expectancy of people from some of the most deprived areas of Gloucestershire."
The aim of the summit was to get people together from health services, local authorities and voluntary organisations in the county to start mapping what services are already available, where the gaps are and how organisations can work better together to make this a better county for people when they are looking for work.
Vikki Walters continued: "What we're doing is working out how we can address health inequalities and identifying if there are any gaps in provision for people who are at risk of long-term unemployment, such as care leavers, people with disabilities and the over 50s."
The rates of unemployment and in particular long-term unemployment are highly unequal between different groups of the population. Individuals from minority ethnic groups, single parents, those with multiple long term health conditions and people with disabilities are more likely to be unemployed.
In her presentation at the summit, Siobhan Farmer, director of public health at Gloucestershire County Council, said: "Health inequalities are defined as avoidable, unfair and systematic difference in health between different groups of people.
"Differences in the rates of health outcomes between different population groups, such as how long you can expect to live in good health, your risk of developing chronic health conditions or the risk of early death are markers of health inequalities.
"We know that the existence of health inequalities reflects how fair society is, and importantly, they are not inevitable - we can reduce them with the right policies and interventions."
Gloucestershire is generally affluent, but with pockets of deprivation right across the county, which have a marked impact on life expectancy.
In Gloucestershire, the life expectancy at birth is 80.2 years for men and 83.9 years for women. But, on average, the life expectancy in the county for those living in the 10% most deprived group of the county is 7.6 years lower for men and 5.8 years lower for women.
Unemployment is strongly associated with poor health through its association with poverty, stress, a higher propensity towards engaging in health-harming behaviours and the impact a period of unemployment can have on future employment prospects.
The effects of unemployment on health become more pronounced the longer the period of unemployment lasts.
Long-term unemployment is associated with:
- Increased risk of dying early and spending a larger portion of life in poor health
- Having mental health conditions and being at increased risk of suicide
- Increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease
- Increased risk of developing multiple long-term conditions
- Lower health-related quality of life
On the flipside, there is strong evidence that being in good quality work improves people's health and wellbeing through income, social interaction and the positive benefits associated with having a role and social identity.
Nationally it is estimated that 1 in 3 economically inactive people have a disability, compared to 1 in 10 people who are in employment.
In Gloucestershire 17.3% of people aged 16-64 years are economically inactive, and over a quarter (27.5%) of people who are economically inactive have never worked.
What's good for health is also good for business, with increased performance and productivity, lower sickness absence and broader social wellbeing.
Talking to Punchline-Gloucester.com, Siobhan Farmer said: "People who have good jobs that are high quality tend to have much better outcomes as they get older - so they'll live longer, and they'll live longer in better health. The fewer people that get multiple conditions and end up sick, the better for the NHS and the better for our economy.
"The more that people stay in work and do good work that's productive, the better the economy is. It's a circle and really important for us all that we have good employment opportunities that offer high quality work for people, so they can stay healthy throughout their lives."
Public Health England said the cost to business of ill health is £100bn annually - more than the annual budget for the NHS and equivalent to the GDP of Portugal.
In Gloucestershire, the number of people who are unemployed and claiming benefits is 2.3% on average. But this is close to 8% in the most deprived decile (10%) of the county, compared to just over 1% in the least deprived decile.
The One Gloucestershire Health and Wellbeing Partnership (H&WP) brings together NHS, social care, public health and other public, voluntary and community sector partners. One of its key areas of work is unemployment.
Mary Hutton, CEO of Gloucestershire Integrated Care Board, said: "The H&WP has a big membership from district councils, from voluntary sectors, health and social care and children and young people's services and we're all working together to set some priorities.
"I want to see how we can widen access to jobs, tell people what is really good about working and living in Gloucestershire and make this a place that people are choosing as their first place to come to work and live.
"We want to really make a difference to people who currently don't have access to the employment opportunities. We've been doing some work looking at access and people who don't normally get the same opportunities as others. Why should people with learning disabilities and with mental health issues not have that access to employment. How can we make our entrance into employment suitable?
"Together, looking at the resources we've got, we could make a bigger difference and give more people that access we want to give them."
Jo Davis, senior partnership manager for DWP Avon, Somerset and Gloucestershire, stressed the importance of partnerships in tackling unemployment and economic inactivity and gave the audience an overview of the current and future DWP programmes designed to help people who are unemployed. She stressed the importance of partnership working in providing the holistic support people need to get into employment and stay in employment cannot be overstated.
She said: "In supporting DWP to achieve our strategic vision and operational objectives - we can change lives together."
Vikki Walters concluded: "We already have a brilliant partnership in the county, but what we want is an exceptional partnership.
"This is the start of the journey for us. From today, we will take all the feedback and the outcomes and we're going to start building a community, so we're all working together, we all understand what each other are doing and we can then talk to one another. We are making a pledge to work with one another to make things better."
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