Putting health first across the council

By Katherine Merrifield and Gwen Nightingale | 20 November 2023

We are delighted to sponsor The MJ Awards for the third year running. At the Health Foundation, our mission is to promote healthy lives for all, and this year, we are pleased to shine a spotlight on work to prioritise health across all local authority departments – not just teams with health in their name.

Last year’s winner of the Health Foundation’s MJ award, St Helens MBC, impressed us with their partnership approach to tackling inequalities through their inequalities commission and their work with local leaders.

This year, our Whole Team Approach to Tackling Health Inequalities award invites applications led by council teams working outside public health – including housing, transport, planning, economic development, children’s services or education.

We are looking for innovative approaches to reduce inequalities by embedding a health lens across one or more council services. We will look for examples of strong leadership, integration with wider council approaches to health inequalities, and clear evidence of impact.

There are brilliant examples of this work, some of which are reflected in our recent publication, Addressing the Leading Risk Factors for Ill Health: A Framework for Local Government Action. This briefing shows how local government can leverage local influence and work across all departments to tackle some of the key drivers of health inequalities: tobacco, unhealthy food and alcohol. The framework includes examples such as local market and street trading policies, which prioritise consent for healthier food options, levies on hot food takeaways which are used to support child obesity initiatives, and designated smoke-free council-run areas, to name but a few.

Ten years on from public health responsibility and funding moving to local government, it is a chance to step back and highlight success stories of where local areas have made the most of the opportunity to embed health in all policies. This award is an excellent opportunity to showcase and celebrate the work councils are doing to create healthy places and improve the health of their communities.

Local authorities are critical to tackling health inequalities and improving health. They have the unique ability to work across local systems and invest in the services and opportunities that keep people healthy. For example, high-quality and affordable housing, access to green spaces and a good education set people up for long and healthy lives.

But we know local people are not always fully aware of local government’s role. At the Solace Summit in Birmingham, we ran a workshop with FrameWorks UK for council leaders on bringing this recognition into the public arena. Our building blocks toolkit is an essential resource for people interested in how we tell a more powerful story about health.

The fact that councils can continue to innovate is impressive, given the historic decline in income alongside increasing demand. Institute for Fiscal Studies research we funded also highlighted the significant discrepancies between relative levels of funding and estimated needs across England, making it harder for councils to cope with demand. Despite this, local government is leading the way in reducing health inequalities by investing in services and opportunities that keep people healthy. We at the Health Foundation remain committed to supporting local government activity work that improves health and look forward to receiving applications showcasing this.

Katherine Merrifield and Gwen Nightingale are assistant director (job share) for healthy lives at The Health Foundation

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• To hear more about the Health Foundation’s work with local government visit www.health.org.uk/form/local-government

Submissions for The MJ Achievement Awards 2024 are now open

To submit your entry visit https://www.mjawards.co.uk/enter-now/categories/

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