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Health Inequalities: Levelling-up Fund

Volume 699: debated on Monday 19 July 2021

What discussions he has had with the (a) Chancellor of the Exchequer and (b) Secretary of State for Health and Social Care on tackling health inequalities through the levelling-up fund. (902857)

The £4.8 billion levelling-up fund will invest in infrastructure that improves everyday life in our country. It is a core part of our levelling-up agenda, and I regularly speak to my ministerial colleagues about the fund. These discussions will inform our levelling-up White Paper, which we intend to publish later this year.

Health inequalities are a clear and persistent indicator of the growing gap between and within regions. Swim England forecasts that, because of the impact of the pandemic, by 2026 just 35% of children in the most deprived areas will meet the required national swimming standard when they leave primary school, compared with 77% in the most affluent areas. More than 400 leisure centres—including West Denton swimming pool in my constituency—have already closed and many more are under threat. Will the Minister give assurances that he and the Chancellor will use the levelling-up fund to address such glaring inequalities? They could make a great start by backing Newcastle’s levelling-up fund bid to develop a new swimming and leisure development in the outer west of Newcastle.

I know that the hon. Lady is hugely passionate about this project in her constituency and has raised it with the Prime Minister directly. We certainly welcome her enthusiasm for the fund and the bid, which is exactly why we are providing councils such as hers with the £125,000 of capacity funding that I have mentioned previously. I am sure she will appreciate that I cannot comment on the specific nature of the bid, but we are supporting projects throughout the country, through mechanisms such as the towns fund, to support positive health and wellbeing implications. I will keep the hon. Lady updated as we move through the process. We expect to announce the outcome of the competition in the autumn this year.