Health beyond health care

Jo Bibby urges the the government not to take a narrow-minded approach to people’s health.


The Health Foundation and the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Health have published a series of essays titled A Healthier Life for All: the case for cross-government action In this publication, we call on the government to tackle the causes of poor health and make health improvement an objective across all policy areas.

Physiotherapists today face a growing number of avoidable cases of musculoskeletal problems related to excess weight and sedentary behaviour. Helping people to be physically active is a vital means to reduce their risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and many cancers.

These conditions are putting a substantial strain on the NHS and have a significant impact on the ability of individuals to live their lives to the full, which, in turn, impacts on families, communities and society.

Preventable ill health is responsible for around 40 per cent of the burden on health services, but only around four per cent of the health budget is spent on prevention. The money spent to promote health through local authorities is diminishing. In February, the Health Foundation, The King’s Fund and the Nuffield Trust published a joint briefing on the Impact of the 2015 spending review which highlighted that public health spending will fall by at least £600m in real terms by 2020-21.

Poor health also has serious economic consequences beyond the NHS. In 2010, Professor Sir Michael Marmot estimated that preventable ill health cost the country from £50-£65 billion a year in lost productivity and tax revenues.  And according to Dame Carol Black, almost a quarter (23 per cent) of jobseekers allowance claimants and more than 40 per cent of incapacity benefits claimants have mental health problems.

Good health needs to be seen as an asset – for individuals, communities and the economy – that is worth investing in. Health contributes to the core infrastructure of a prosperous and sustainable society, and is not something we can only ‘afford’ when the economy is thriving.

  • Jo Bibby, director of strategy, the Health Foundation
Jo Bibby

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