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Placing Health Equity at the heart of Coronavirus recovery for building a sustainable future for Wales

Published: 18 March 2021

A new report published today (18 March 2021) calls for a greater emphasis on health equity – ensuring everyone has an equal opportunity to be healthy – in the response to, and recovery from, Coronavirus.

The report is produced by the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre at Public Health Wales. It is part of a global initiative – led jointly by the World Health Organization, Welsh Government and Public Health Wales – placing Wales at the forefront as a champion country, committed to tackling health inequities.

This inaugural report focuses on the wider, less immediately visible, effects of the pandemic on a range of issues including:

  • Poverty, deprivation and social exclusion
  • Unemployment, education and the digital divide
  • Harmful housing and working conditions, and violence and crime

It also highlights the disproportionate impact that coronavirus has had, and is having, on specific groups such as children and young people, women, key workers and ethnic minorities. For example, young people report being worried about losing their job or not being able to find one; and the educational divide has persisted and increased, particularly for the most deprived in our society.

Dr Tracey Cooper, Chief Executive of Public Health Wales, said: “The Coronavirus pandemic is having significant health, well-being and socio-economic consequences. It is felt unequally across our society threatening those in most need.

“However, amidst the crisis, a new window of opportunity has opened. Public health has become a global focus, strengthening the case for investing in people’s well-being - preventing disease early, protecting and promoting health, enhancing resilience and equity, supporting the most vulnerable and empowering our communities.”

“Working with the World Health Organization, Wales is the first country to become a global influencer and live innovation site for health equity.

“Delivered through our WHO Collaborating Centre on Investment for Health and Well-being, this Wales Health Equity Status Report initiative provides a platform for synthesising and sharing evidence and intelligence, developing practical tools and helping to close the health gap in Wales and beyond.

“We hope this will improve our collective understanding of the social, economic and environmental impacts of the Coronavirus pandemic and support a sustainable and fair response and recovery in Wales.”

The report provides a picture of the diverse harms, as well as opportunities resulting from the Coronavirus pandemic and related restrictive measures, focusing on the unequal consequences across different sectors, areas of life and population groups; and how these could be addressed.

For example, the report highlights digital technology as a means by which people can support and maintain their mental well-being. Digital technology is seen as critical in mobilising young people to mitigate the effects of the pandemic and strengthening individual and societal resilience against future shocks and disasters.

However, a digital divide exists, in terms of unequal access to, or expertise with, digital technology, which prevents some individuals from working from home. This has had a major indirect impact on children and young people, including a ‘digital exclusion’ of those from deprived backgrounds, as well as of older people and marginalised groups.

Data from Wales shows that:

  • More than one in 10 people (11 per cent) recorded as internet non-users (‘digitally excluded’)
  • Nearly one in five (19 per cent) in Wales reported having no basic digital skills, considerably higher than the rest of the UK
  • 60 per cent of adults lacked basic digital knowledge and skills when the pandemic caused workplaces and schools to close

Minister for Mental Health, Wellbeing and Welsh Language, Eluned Morgan, said: "During the pandemic we have introduced a number of new initiatives to tackle the digital divide and support those most affected.

“These include a national telephone befriending service for older people and our Looking Out For Each Other Safely campaign which provides advice on how to stay in contact and prevent feelings of loneliness and isolation.

"Going forward we will strive to ensure everyone has access to the services they need, whether they are young or old, and reduce the number of people who feel digitally excluded.

During the pandemic:

  • The Welsh Government made an additional £3 million available to provide laptops and mobile internet for ‘digitally excluded’ pupils. Funding was used for the provision of 10,848 WiFi devices and 9,717 software licenses
  • The Welsh Government provided 1100 devices to care homes to enable virtual NHS appointments and help families keep in touch
  • The Welsh Government COVID-19 resilience plan for the post-16 sector outlines a strategy to support learners, communities and employers during and beyond the COVID-19 outbreak
  • Digital Communities Wales is training frontline staff and volunteers to ensure they can support people to stay in touch during the pandemic and prevent feelings of loneliness and isolation."

The report, ‘Placing health equity at the heart of the COVID-19 sustainable response and recovery: Building prosperous lives for all in Wales’ provides a detailed picture of the wider social, economic and environmental impacts that Coronavirus has had on people in Wales, focusing on reducing the widening health gap. The WHO Collaborating Centre at Public Health Wales supports the development of, and advocates for, policies to improve health and well-being and achieve healthy prosperous lives for all in Wales and beyond.