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Gwynne column: The lessons of 'damning' report

In his latest column, Denton MP Andrew Gwynne says social and health inequality must be addressed as we recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

Last week Sir Michael Marmot, the director of the UCL institute for Health Equity, published a report entitled ‘Build Back Fairer in Greater Manchester: Health Equality and Dignified Lives.’

Sir Marmot’s report makes for shocking reading and reveals that the coronavirus death rate in Greater Manchester is 25 per cent higher than the England average during the year to March. Life expectancy in the North West of England also declined more during 2020 than in England overall. 

The report identifies Conservative cuts as ‘regressive’ with ‘poorer areas and those areas outside London and the South’ experiencing ‘proportionately larger cuts’.

The report recommends a variety of different measures to tackle health and social inequality, including doubling healthcare spending in Greater Manchester over the next five years, refunding local government to tackle homelessness and poverty, and prioritising funding for children and young people.

When I read the report, I was angry but also not surprised. 

A decade of government spending cuts has left areas like Tameside struggling and impeded the ability of local government to prepare and respond to crises when they occur. Those in low-paid and insecure work are often particularly exposed to Covid, and in many cases have not been given the financial support to self-isolate. 

The pandemic has exacerbated long-standing health and social inequalities that have been ignored for far too long. In the 1980s, the life expectancy of an adult male from Denton West was around a decade more than one from Denton South.

When I was at Egerton Park (now Denton Community College) one of my best mates Joe came from Haughton Green in Denton South. I lived on Maple Avenue in Denton West. Two lads. Same age. Same town. Same class. Same school. Two very different life chances. We knew it was wrong then, and we know it’s wrong now. How then, are we still having this conversation?

This report must be taken seriously. The Government cannot sit back and allow social conditions to continue to deteriorate whilst simultaneously claiming to back a levelling up agenda. 

We must see radical investment if we are going to build a society that is fair for everyone, irrespective of where you live. Local governments know what local communities need, but without the necessary funding and devolved powers they are unable to implement the urgent changes required.

I am urging politicians of all stripes to read this landmark report, and join me in working hard to ensure that these recommendations are carried out. Let’s invest in good quality jobs, properly fund education recovery, and give local government the tools they are crying out for.

The pandemic has been a dark part of our modern story, but if we learn the right lessons from it, the future can be so much brighter.

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