COVENTRY has to do more to tackle poverty if it wants to seriously improve citizens’ health, a Labour councillor says.
Coun Jim O’Boyle, a former Coventry City Council cabinet member, was responding to a report by Coventry Public Health entitled “Improving Health and Wellbeing through the Environment.”
Coun O’Boyle, former chairman of Coventry’s Health and Wellbeing Board, is concerned that officials’ claims that Coventry is making great advances could be misleading.
Coventry’s health inequalities remain marked, with life expectancy being around nine years higher for people living in better off areas of the city than the most deprived communities.
There has been a small reduction in that gap in recent years, when tacking health inequality has been a key council priority.
Coun O’Boyle, who represents St Michael’s ward including the city centre and disadvantaged Hillfields, was referring to claims by Coventry Director of Public Health, Jane Moore that the recently published Local Plan, Cycle Coventry and eating out in the city all contributed to a good and improving picture.
The report was presented to the council’s health scrutiny board of councillors last week.
Coun O’Boyle, a scrutiny committee member, said: “For health inequalities, you should also read ‘wealth inequalities’ because that is what it amounts to in the end.
“There is no doubt there are a number of initiatives which demonstrate a willingness to point people in the right direction.
“However, it is important to challenge the assumption that by providing opportunities such as cycle paths or outdoor gym equipment that people will make the healthy choice.
“The problem is much more complex. People need to be in a position to make those positive choices such as buying healthy food or exercising. And to do that, they need both the time and income to do it.
“Unfortunately, much of the data which afflicts Coventry makes for unhappy reading and is a direct result of government austerity policies which are really starting to bite.
“The employment rate in Coventry is 66.1% which puts Coventry down at 56th out of 63 cities in England.
“Earnings are down in the city 2.2% in 2014/15 putting us 58th out of 63 with average income in the city £1800 less than the West Midlands which is also £2000 a year less than it was in 2008.
“We still have far too many young people not in education, employment or training, certainly higher than the regional and national averages.
“These difficult statistics demonstrate Coventry has systemic issues that need a complete reappraisal and overhaul.
“We should challenge the government when they seek to visit upon Coventry even more austerity and instead argue that they invest heavily in our industry, build good quality and affordable housing and support our young people as they seek to get on in the world.
“Instead they have cut further education, let house prices soar taking them out of the reach of the many in our city whilst selling off social housing at a cut price and not replacing them.
“Only if you tackle these problems will you begin to solve the issues of the disastrous and damaging health inequalities which still mark out the rich and the poor in Coventry.”
Coun O’Boyle was drawing from statistics in a report by national organisation, Centre For Cities.
Coventry Public Health’s report itself states 20,579 (16 per cent) of Coventry households were in fuel poverty in 2013 – much higher than the national 10 per cent average.
Coventry had the 6th highest level of fuel poverty of all 326 local authorities in England, with people “living in cold, damp homes which can exacerbate a range of health conditions” and contribute to winter deaths.