According to a report released today by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), 130,000 deaths could have been prevented since 2012, had improvements in public health seen over the previous 20 years continued. The report ties this preventable loss of life – and the concurrent rise in preventable diseases – to sustained cuts to the public health grant, which has fallen by over half a billion pounds in the last five years.

In Ending the Blame Game, the IPPR recommends that the government:

  • Add £1 billion to the public health grant by 2023/24, to return it to 2012/2013 levels
  • Provide every school child who lives in a household in receipt of universal credit with a free school meal
  • Return funding for physical education to the initial amount of £415 million which was promised following the implementation of the ‘sugar levy’
  • Raise the minimum age of smoking to 21 and extend the smoking ban to all public places
  • Provide free fruit and vegetables in schools and introduce plain packaging for confectionery, crisps and high-sugar drinks
  • Implement a 9pm watershed on advertising for unhealthy food products

At the heart of the report is the argument that individuals are not to blame for ill health, calling for a shift in paradigm away from policies that ‘blame and punish’ to those that ‘empathise and assist.’ The report calls for Government to acknowledge in its upcoming Green Paper on Prevention that there are wider forces in our society and environment that shape people’s health, and build a prevention strategy with this in mind.

Shirley Cramer CBE, Chief Executive of the Royal Society for Public Health said: “This new report from the Institute for Public Policy Research is a real wake-up call. With preventable diseases on the rise, and a Spending Review and Prevention Green Paper round the corner, this is a crucial junction for the public’s health - the Government should seize this opportunity to lay out a courageous and clear vision for revitalising the public’s health. This should include commitments to bold new legislation, taxation and regulation, all of which must be key pillars of any ambitious strategy.

“However, there’s no doubt that at the heart of this report’s worrying findings are the years of chronic underfunding experienced by public health teams everywhere, who provide vital services and support. This short-sighted thinking by central government is not just counter-productive in the short term, but it undermines the future sustainability of our NHS. With an estimated £14 return for every pound spent, it’s clear that funding prevention makes sense – both for population wellbeing and the public purse.”