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Government urged to consider the health impact of spending decisions

08 December 2010

Researchers at Cardiff University have reviewed the impact of the current economic downturn on mental and physical health.

Drawing on the lessons of previous economic downturns the report, published by the Wales Health Impact Assessment Support Unit (a partnership between Cardiff University and Public Health Wales) urges policymakers to consider how best to protect people’s health and well-being whilst making difficult decisions over spending.

The report sets out that public spending austerity measures are likely to impact on people’s lives in an uneven way. In particular young people are the age group most likely to suffer in the long run. Whilst uncertainty about jobs and income is likely to result in an increase in mild to moderate mental health problems, cuts in services and changes to the benefits system mean that people with serious mental health problems are also vulnerable. The researchers argue that the test of how well political administrations respond to such crises will be the extent to which the health and well being of its populations are protected.

Dr Eva Elliott, Cardiff Institute of Society and Health said: "The lesson of previous downturns is that the social and associated health impacts can lag long after what can be a relatively short period of economic recession. These effects can also be uneven and affect particular groups in the population and people living in particular places more than others. In South Wales people are still dealing with the emotional and physical wounds which are the legacy of rapid re-industrialisation in the 1980s and we need to be prepared this time round."

The report recommendations include:

• the development of active labour market programmes, underpinned by evaluation, that support people entering, re-entering or staying in satisfactory employment in parallel to maintaining and generating good health,

• protecting and developing services intended to support vulnerable children and young people,

• addressing personal debt through the regulation of doorstep lenders, promoting other sources of credit and protecting advice services,

• providing effective mental health support at primary care and community levels,

• for health services, local authorities and the third sector to identify mechanisms which pool resources across localities for maximum health benefit, and

• for the impacts of social and economic change to be monitored

The study was funded by the Welsh Assembly Government. Published online today (Dec 8) it reviews the health impact of past recessions and their aftermaths, as well as undertaking case studies in two contrasting local authority areas, and includes evidence from discussions with a small group of policy makers and service leads with national and local responsibilities.

Notes to editors

1. The report published (Dec 8) authored by Cardiff School of Social Science researchers: Dr Eva Elliott, Ms Emily Harrop, Dr Michael Shepherd, Heather Rothwell and Professor Gareth Williams can be read online at:

2. Cardiff Institute of Society and Health (CISHE) is based in the Cardiff School of Social Sciences in close collaboration with the School of Medicine. The establishment of the Institute in 2003 was funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales. CISHE aims to lead and facilitate research of international excellence, placing emphasis on tackling health inequalities and ensuring that our research has an impact on policy and practice in Wales and beyond.

3. The Wales Health Impact Assessment Support Unit (WHIASU) is a partnership between Cardiff University and Public Health Wales, funded by the Welsh Assembly Government. The unit has a Wales wide remit to: support the development and effective use of HIA in Wales through building partnerships and collaborations with key statutory, voluntary and community organisations and to conduct innovative research to inform the development of HIA and health in all policies

4. Cardiff University is recognised in independent government assessments as one of Britain’s leading teaching and research universities and is a member of the Russell Group of the UK’s most research intensive universities. Among its academic staff are two Nobel Laureates, including the winner of the 2007 Nobel Prize for Medicine, Professor Sir Martin Evans. Founded by Royal Charter in 1883, today the University combines impressive modern facilities and a dynamic approach to teaching and research. The University’s breadth of expertise in research and research-led teaching encompasses: the humanities; the natural, physical, health, life and social sciences; engineering and technology; preparation for a wide range of professions; and a longstanding commitment to lifelong learning.

5. Public Health Wales is an NHS organisation providing professionally independent public health advice and services to protect and improve the health and wellbeing of the population of Wales.

Public Health Wales has four statutory functions:

  • To provide and manage a range of public health, health protection, healthcare improvement, health advisory, child protection and microbiological laboratory services and services relating to the surveillance, prevention and control of communicable diseases;
  • To develop and maintain arrangements for making information about matters related to the protection and improvement of health in Wales available to the public; to undertake and commission research into such matters and to contribute to the provision and development of training in such matters;
  • To undertake the systematic collection, analysis and dissemination of information about the health of the people of Wales in particular including cancer incidence, mortality and survival; and prevalence of congenital anomalies; and
  • To provide, manage, monitor, evaluate and conduct research into screening of health conditions and screening of health related matters.

More information on Public Health Wales is available at

For more information contact

Emma Darling

Public Relations

Cardiff University

Tel: 029 20874499


Dr Eva Elliott

Cardiff Institute of Society, Health and Ethics (CISHE)

Cardiff University


Email: 029 20879138