Toggle menu

Gateshead Health and Wellbeing Strategy

Foreword by the Leader of the Council

Reducing health and social inequalities is not just a matter of fairness and social justice. Inequalities are bad for everyone in society. In unequal countries; civic participation decreases, household debt rises, and child well-being is worse.

It is morally unacceptable that there is a direct link between lower social position and poorer health. In line with other parts of the UK, inequalities have started growing again in Gateshead.

In our economically advanced society, rising inequalities suggest that the right policies are not in place to make use of all available resources to guarantee a decent standard of living for everyone. In Gateshead, one in five children live in poverty. Last year over 7,800 people accessed foodbanks in Gateshead (including over 2,500 children), and over 3,000 people needed support and advice to prevent or deal with homelessness and insecure housing. We know from our local research that Universal Credit (welfare reform) is pushing local people into debt.

The country has had over ten years of austerity which has seen public sector funding continually reduced by central government - we have lost nearly half of our previous funding, the equivalent of £900 less to spend per year on every household in Gateshead. Austerity has resulted in a significantly reduced universal and preventative service offer which, combined with a growth in the older population alongside the local impact of welfare reform, has produced an increase in demand for more expensive crisis services.

The combination of austerity and increasing need has meant it has become ever more difficult for all services to respond with the help and support people require. Closing the inequality gap is a big challenge which will need us to look beyond ill health treatment and social care services so that the causes of illness, which are rooted in the wider social issues, can be dealt with.

Put simply, the most effective way of ensuring people have the best chance of thriving, and living an enjoyable life in good health, is to make sure they have a good start in life, a good education, a warm and loving home, access to good quality work and enough income to meet their needs.

In addition, a new challenge has emerged in the form of climate change caused by the greenhouse effect which prevents heat escaping into the atmosphere and leads to global warming. There is now widespread acceptance that human activity is responsible for negatively changing the environment in which we live. Urgent action is required, and Gateshead wants to lead by example. That is why on the 23 May 2019 Gateshead Council declared a climate emergency and why this strategy is different from the ones we have produced in the past, incorporating vital action on climate change. Some of the behaviour change necessary to address poverty and climate change is of equal importance to our health and wellbeing, for example, active and more sustainable travel, buying and growing locally, tackling fuel poverty.

Delivering this strategy will require a different approach based on fairness, human rights, justice, relationships and trust that will facilitate the circumstances that enable people to have the best opportunities in life. It will need us to focus our community development expertise to galvanise both the power and commitment of individuals, supporting communities to take greater control over what happens in their neighbourhoods, creating relationships, improving confidence and encouraging a greater sense of belonging.

This foundation is where our 'Gateshead Thrive' approach originated, and it has been critical to develop a Health and Wellbeing Strategy that supports the delivery of this ambition. We want this strategy to set out where we focus our attention to reduce levels of inequality through altering the circumstances that lead to inequality. We want to prevent the ongoing cycle of disadvantage for future generations. As Sir Michael Marmot says; 'Why treat people and send them back to the conditions that made them sick?'.

This strategy is not going to be easy to deliver. It will require close collaboration between public sector organisations, our communities, the voluntary and community sector and local business. It needs to be driven by place-based approaches that are directed and influenced by local people. Within our powers, we are determined to make social rights real in Gateshead. We should not, and will not, accept anything less.

We know this will be challenging because it is complex, and it is not something that will be completed in one, five or even ten years. But if we all work together on this, fighting for a better future, we believe that Gateshead can be a place where everyone thrives.

Cllr Martin Gannon - Leader, Gateshead Council