Funding for healthy-lifestyle support such as stop-smoking and obesity clinics has been cut by a quarter in six years in England, research shows.
The Health Foundation reported that councils received £3.3 billion to run these services this year, which was £1 billion less than in 2015-16 after inflation was factored in.
The cut also jeopardised the government’s leveling-up agenda, which aimed to more fairly distribute wealth and opportunity.
However, the government stated that it is “absolutely committed” to the policy.
A government spokesman added that the newly established Office for Health Improvement and Disparities would be critical in levelling up.
Details on future funding are expected to be released later this autumn.
The Health Foundation analysis is being released ahead of Health Secretary Sajid Javid’s speech to the Conservative Party Conference on Tuesday.
While spending on the NHS has increased, funding for public health councils has decreased by 24% in the last six years.
And in Blackpool, the most deprived area of the country, that equated to £43 less per person per year spent on critical public-health services.
According to the Health Foundation, these services are critical to ensuring that people stay healthy and get the most out of life.
However, it was noted that people in the poorest areas could expect to live nearly 20 fewer years in good health than their counterparts in wealthier areas, a disparity that was likely exacerbated by the Covid pandemic.
According to Jo Bibby of the Health Foundation, ministers have already acknowledged that levelling up health is critical to levelling up economically.
“A healthy and productive population is critical to the country’s future prosperity,” she stated.
“However, continuing cuts to the public-health grant run counter to this agenda and will ultimately serve to entrench health inequality.”
The Health Foundation estimated that an additional £1.4 billion would be required by 2024-25 to make up for these cuts.
The Association of Directors of Public Health, which has published a letter signed by more than 50 leading health charities and groups, has backed its call.
“The public-health grant has been cut, cut, and cut again,” said ADPH interim president Prof Jim McManus, “undermining the leadership and services that are essential to improving health and reducing inequalities.”