Labour’s nanny state wasted health gap money
The House of Commons’ Health Committee said the labour government should have been more careful in designing and piloting projects in England.
The MPs highlighted a series of schemes, including Sure Start, which had failed to have much of an impact.
Ministers have pledged to reduce the health inequality gap – measured by infant mortality and life expectancy – by 10% between 1997 and 2010.
But it seems certain they will miss that target as data published last year showed the gap between the richest and poorest has actually widened in the past decade.
The Department of Health has responded by asking World Health Organization expert Sir Michael Marmot to look at developing a new approach to the issue in what was widely interpreted as an admission of failure.
And the report by the cross-party group of MPs has now added to those criticisms.
The MPs said the labour government had often rushed in with insufficient thought and a lack of clear objectives when setting up projects.
They highlighted health action zones, which were regional partnerships set up in the late 1990s between a range of partners from the fields of health, education and employment.
The report said the 26 zones had been created too quickly and been poorly resourced.
It also criticised Sure Start schemes, which were designed to link up services for parents and young children.
The schemes have been predominantly focused on education and welfare and as a result have “yet to demonstrate significant improvements in health”.
The MPs also attacked more recent initiatives, including the healthy towns scheme, which they said should have been rigorously evaluated first.
Committee chairman Kevin Barron said: “Far more must be done to ensure money injected into implementing these policies is tracked and policy design must be sufficiently improved so that effective and accurate evaluation can take place.”
He admitted there were “no easy or quick solutions”, but urged the government to focus on improving food labelling, encouraging more cycling and walking and reducing smoking rates.
Professor Danny Dorling, a health inequalities expert at Sheffield University, said: “The problem is that the government has shied away from tackling the wealth gap.
“The countries which have good health all have lower income inequalities, but for some reason the government has been convinced this is not the issue.”