Skip to main content

Health Problems (Poverty)

Volume 602: debated on Tuesday 17 November 2015

Across Government we are working to improve the life chances of children, and that is at the heart of our efforts to tackle the real causes of child poverty and improve the prospects for the next generation. That involves taking a broad approach to improving poor health and tackling health inequalities which the last Government embedded in the law. The wider causes of ill health, such as worklessness and unhealthy lifestyles, are all being addressed at the moment. I welcome the fact that we have record numbers of people in work and a dramatic drop in the number of children living in workless households. That goes to the heart of some of the broader drivers of ill health and poverty.

I am pleased that the Government accept that there is a causal link between poverty and poor health outcomes. They will also know of the widespread concern that the proposed changes to the tax credits regime will result in greater poverty, which will in itself cause poorer health outcomes and may put great pressure on the NHS. Will the Department consider putting in place mechanisms to monitor the effect of the tax credit changes on demands on the national health service?

We do far more than monitor health inequalities; we are taking action to deal with them. The heart of my portfolio is comprised entirely of tackling health inequalities in our nation. Let me give just a couple of examples: the expanded troubled families programme, on which the Department of Health is working closely with other Departments; and the family nurse partnership, where we support some of the most vulnerable young parents in the earliest years of their children’s lives. Those programmes have the greatest impact on our most disadvantaged communities. The matters that the hon. Gentleman raises are for other Departments, but I assure the House that improving the life chances of all our children is core business for the Government.

Interesting answer, but unfortunately it was not the answer to the question that was asked. No doubt my hon. Friend will follow that up later. Is the Minister aware of work produced by, for example, Sir Harry Burns, the former chief medical officer of Scotland, which clearly indicates that although there is a very strong link between poverty and poor health, that link is not inevitable and should not be allowed to become inevitable? What are the Government doing to change policy, so that that link can be broken?

I have already given some examples of the work the Government are doing to tackle health inequalities in our nation. Let me give the hon. Gentleman another practical example. The burden of disease that tobacco brings falls disproportionately on poor communities. As well as the action that we have taken on standardised packaging and on smoking in cars with children, we are committed to a new tobacco strategy. I have said publicly that at the heart of the strategy there must be effective action to look at the areas in which the effect of tobacco falls most heavily—disadvantaged communities. We are taking practical action to close gaps in health outcomes in a range of ways.