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Urban health

Spring Budget: how can the Government level up health in 2023?

7 March 2023
6 min read

We’ve picked out four priorities we think the Government should be considering in the lead up to the Spring Budget.

The upcoming Spring Budget, when the Chancellor will outline plans for spending in the coming year, comes at a challenging time. Households across the country are struggling with the rising cost of living and still recovering from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The Budget provides a golden opportunity to address the most pressing health challenges for people living in towns and cities and invest in the nation’s health in a way that is impactful, and responsible with the public’s finances. 

We’ve picked out four priorities that reflect key Government areas of focus: children’s health and access to nutritious food, financial resilience, and air quality. 

Here’s what we think the Government should be considering in the lead up to the Spring Budget. 

1. Increase access to healthy free school meals to fuel a healthier society

Healthy, free meals at school enable all children to have opportunities to learn and thrive, no matter where they grow up. At a time when families are increasingly struggling to access and afford healthy food, the provision of free, nutritious meals in schools is a powerful way of providing targeted support and accruing long term social and economic benefits. 

Economic analysis we commissioned from PwC has demonstrated that free school meals are good value for money, offering a £1.38 return for every £1 spent, if they were expanded to all families in receipt of Universal Credit, and £1.71 for every £1 invested if extended to all schoolchildren in England. 

It is fantastic that some local areas, for example London, are already committed to offering free school meals to primary pupils in response to the rising cost of living, but we know that for free school meals to have the most impact the offer needs to be long term. 

The change we want to see: A national expansion of free school meal provision, building on the important steps already taken by some local authorities. 

2. Incentivise companies to improve the nutritional profile of food products

Everyone deserves access to affordable, nutritious food, no matter where they live. But the places where many children and families – especially those on lower incomes – live, work and play are currently flooded with unhealthy food. Soaring inflation and cost of living pressures have put healthier options out of reach for many. Healthier food now costs three times as much per calorie as unhealthy food, exacerbating dietary and health inequalities. 

It doesn’t have to be this way. Our work with Mission Ventures on the Good Food programme has shown that it’s possible for food to be tasty and affordable, but also lower in fat, salt, and sugar.  

Financially incentivising companies to reformulate products – by removing excess salt, sugar, and saturated fat – is a cost-effective way of improving the nation’s nutritional health and preventing avoidable illness. 

The change we want to see: The introduction of a direct levy, payable by the food and drink industry, to incentivise reformulation of processed food and create a more level playing field for manufacturers. 

3. Protect health by addressing the household debt crisis

Once people become locked in a cycle of poor health and financial insecurity, it can be very difficult to break free. Our work with the Centre for Responsible Credit has shown that programmes to improve personal financial management benefit health.  

The Financial Shield provides holistic health and financial support for people with long-term conditions. On average people have seen their incomes increase by just over £2,400 a year (due to increasing their take-up of benefits they are entitled to and other discretionary support) by engaging with the programme. 

Investing in interventions that support people at risk of financial hardship is a cost-effective way of promoting wellbeing and improving health in the long term. 

The change we want to see: More support for initiatives that deliver joined-up, personalised advice to people who are managing ill health and the impact on their finances, and expanding this offer into new areas. 

4. Incentivise business to improve air quality in towns and cities

Air pollution has devastating effects on people’s health. According to the World Health Organisation, air pollution is the single greatest environmental threat to health.  

Businesses have an important role to play in reducing air pollution. Approximately one third of polluting emissions come from industrial and commercial sources in London, like the construction and transport sectors. Reducing emissions from industrial and commercial sources will not only improve the health of people living in towns and cities, but it is also good for business. Typically, companies that measure the effect they have on the environment benefit from lower energy and resource costs.  

With our partner Ricardo, we are exploring how medium-size and large business in the freight, construction, and service sectors can measure and report on air pollution emissions, alongside or as part of existing greenhouse gas reporting. The increased scope and visibility of combined reporting will provide a ‘truer’ picture of business contributions to ambient air pollution as well as provide greater insight into emissions sources for individual businesses, helping to inform more effective corporate pollution reduction strategies in the future.  

The change we want to see: Financial incentives for businesses to calculate and reduce their greenhouse gas and other polluting emissions to improve air quality in towns and cities and help the Government to meet its air quality and wider environmental commitments.