The links between health and employment in Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes were the focus of a first-of-its-kind seminar held in Flitwick on Friday 21 July.
Around 80 people from local authorities, the NHS and other public services, including the Prison Service and the Department for Work and Pensions, were joined by representatives of the voluntary, community and social enterprise sectors for a day of action planning on tackling poor health and employment outcomes.
Attendees also included residents with relevant lived experience, several of whom shared powerful stories of the positive health impact of finding employment.
A 2022 study by the Health Foundation found that unemployed people were more than five times as likely as those in employment to be in poor health, whilst NHS figures from 2021 indicate that people with a long-term condition have an employment rate of 64.5%, compared with 75% of the population as a whole, a gap of 10.5%. The employment gap is even wider in Luton (16.1%) and Central Bedfordshire (14.4%).
Dr Rima Makarem, Chair of Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes Integrated Care Board, said:
“Poor health and unemployment are inextricably linked. Ill-health, and chronic illness in particular, is a blight on people’s lives; it prevents them from living long, fulfilling lives, makes them less likely to secure and stay in work, and it adds pressure to health services and the local economy alike.
“Bringing together so many partners in one place to tackle employment and health challenges is a major step towards achieving the sustainable change required to improve the health of local people and grow the local economy.
“As an integrated care system, this is what we are here to do. We will rally partners from all sectors of society to listen to residents, and develop action plans which we can pursue together, using the resources and expertise which each partner brings. This is just the first in a planned series of seminars, and we are already preparing for the next, which will focus on improving the health of children and young people.”
The event’s keynote speaker, Professor Donna Hall CBE, is chair of the community-focused think tank New Local and an advisor on Integrated Care Boards to NHS England. She was formerly chief executive at Wigan Council. Professor Hall discussed the nature of the relationship between citizens and the services they receive from the state, a subject on which she has written extensively, and specifically the Wigan Deal, a joined-up approach to public service planning which succeeded in extending healthy life expectancy in Wigan by seven years.
Detailed planning sessions were held following the speeches, with individual group discussions for Bedford Borough, Central Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes, to identify key priorities and agree actions that will be taken forward by those working in each locality.
Themes running through these action plans include closer working with employers to increase the number of workplaces which support people into jobs after a period outside employment, enhancing the level and relevance of young people’s skills for the modern workplace, and investigating whether people can be directed more efficiently to volunteering opportunities when they receive treatment for their mental health or substance misuse.