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More at risk of poor health outcomes from Brexit after pandemic increases vulnerability

Published: 22 September 2021

A new report published today by Public Health Wales highlights Wales’ vulnerability to any negative impacts of Brexit on the nation’s health and wellbeing following the Coronavirus pandemic.  

Building on evidence that the pandemic has had an unequal effect on Welsh society, the study details how, now more than ever, it is important to understand how Brexit and future trade agreements will impact health and wellbeing for those living in, or at risk of poverty. 

Key vulnerabilities identified include:  

  • By the end of December 2020, 69 per cent of the UK economy had been negatively affected by Brexit and/or the pandemic 
  • In 2019, 61 per cent of goods from Wales were exported to the EU, higher than for the UK overall  
  • Between 2014-2020, European structural and investment funding was around four times the UK average, on a per person basis 
  • In 2020, approximately one in twelve staff employed in health and social care were non-UK nationals, the majority of which were from the EU. 

The report also draws together evidence on how poverty has affected people in Wales:  

  • 180,000 children live in poverty in Wales; seven in ten children in relative income poverty live in working households 
  • Wales has one of the highest in-work poverty rates in the UK, with one in seven workers living in poverty 
  • Pre-pandemic, a fifth of UK adults were over-indebted or were vulnerable to financial shocks 
  • In March 2020, more than a quarter of Welsh households did not have enough savings to cover their regular income for just one month 

‘Brexit and poverty in Wales: A public health lens’ identifies that while the impact of Brexit remains uncertain, individuals and families who face multiple disadvantage and inequality, such as those on low-income, unemployed or experiencing in-work poverty, or who have less financial resilience, for example fewer household savings, are more vulnerable to any potential negative economic impacts of Brexit. 

The report focuses on five key areas where Brexit effects are likely to be felt by those who are experiencing poverty: 

  • Employment and skills: Brexit could affect some sectors and workers, who have to date, been less affected by the pandemic. However, there are opportunities that come with leaving the EU, such as increased job availability for younger workers. 
  • Financial resilience: Any negative economic impacts of Brexit could have effects in addition to those already seen as a result of the pandemic – for example for households with low or erratic incomes, or younger adults. 
  • Funding for addressing inequalities: Loss of EU structural funding could significantly impact some communities and vulnerable groups in Wales. There is ongoing uncertainty about whether the UK Levelling Up Fund or the Shared Prosperity Fund will match previous investment in some parts of Wales. 
  • Public services: Public services are a vital support mechanism for our most disadvantaged communities. Changes to immigration rules may cause staffing shortfalls in some services such as social care, with concerns about what this means for services in the longer term.  
  • Food security: Any increase in the price of food will impact those experiencing poverty the most, and affect people’s ability to buy nutritional food.   

Dr Sumina Azam, Consultant in Public Health, at Public Health Wales, said:

“The purpose of this report is to identify the potential risks and opportunities, and identify actions to help Wales prepare for, and respond to the impacts of Brexit and future trade agreements. 

“This should be seen as our opportunity to address inequalities in health and wellbeing in Wales and work towards creating a fairer society for all. For example it’s important we identify communities who are most affected by loss of EU funding and target future funding at those most impacted, and strengthen our understanding of the links between trade and health, so that we better understand what the effects of future trade agreements will be for our communities.  

“We can also work to enhance the role of our public services, which support our most vulnerable communities and populations, and have a key role in supporting the wider community in which they are based, through the employment of local staff, or through contributing to the local economy.