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Government cuts force councils to reduce preventative public health spending

Central government cuts have forced councils to reduce planned spending on vital public health services such as sexual health clinics and reducing harm from smoking, alcohol and drugs.

An analysis by the King’s Fund finds that councils are set to reduce public health funding by £85m.

Based on Department of Communities and Local Government data, the analysis shows that councils in England are planning to spend £3.4 billion on public health services in 2017/18.

But on a like-for-like basis (to exclude the impact of changes to how budgets are calculated over different years) councils will spend only £2.52 billion on public health services in 2017/18 compared to £2.60 billion the previous year.

Once inflation is factored in, the King’s Fund estimates that, on a like-for-like basis, planned public health spending is more than 5% less in 2017/18 than it was in 2013/14.

While the figures show that councils are planning to spend more on some services – including on promoting physical activity and on some children’s services – most services are planned to be cut.

This includes reducing spending on:

  • sexual health services by £30 million compared to last year, a 5% cut
  • tackling drug misuse in adults by more than £22 million, a 5.5% cut
  • stop smoking services by almost £16 million, a 15% cut.

Many services that face spending cuts this year have already had to cope with successive years of falling budgets.

Planned spending on sexual health services, for example, has fallen by £64 million, or by 10%, over the past four years. This is despite significant increases in recent years in the number of cases of some sexually transmitted infections including syphilis and gonorrhoea.

These reductions follow government cuts in public health funding of at least £600 million by 2020/21, on top of £200 million already cut from the 2015/16 budget.

This is despite Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt highlighting in parliament last year that making good progress on public health often has the biggest effect on health inequalities.

David Buck, Senior Fellow in Public Health and Inequalities at The King’s Fund, said: “These planned cuts in services are the result of central government funding cuts that are increasingly forcing councils to make difficult choices about which services they fund.

“Reducing spending on public health is short-sighted at the best of times. But at a time when the rate of syphilis is at its highest level for 70 years, to cut spending on sexual health services is the falsest of false economies and is storing up problems for the future.

“The government must reverse these cuts and ensure councils get adequate resources to fund vital public health services.”

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