The UK experiences some of the largest differences in health between places in Europe with people living in poorer areas dying on average 9 years younger and living for 19 more years in poor health than more affluent areas. These differences are largely due to economic differences between places, such as high unemployment and low wages in some places.
Many initiatives have been carried out in the past to try and address the economic difficulties faced by disadvantaged places, however, they have had limited success. A new approach called a Community Wealth Initiative has been tried in Preston, a city in the North West of England that has historically been relatively disadvantaged. Rather than involving new government funding, this new approach involved all the large public and third sector organisations in Preston, known as anchor institutions (e.g. the local authority, university, NHS, police, the social housing provider etc). These organisations looked at how they spent their budgets, to see if they could buy more services from local suppliers. Where they could not find local suppliers they helped establish new charities and cooperatives. They also improved the conditions of their employees, increasing their wages and encouraged their suppliers to do the same. They looked at their investments, property and land to see how these could be used in ways that increased benefits for the local population – for example renovating empty properties for social housing.
All of these actions aimed to boost the local economy and ensure that the most disadvantaged groups were benefiting from these improvements. There are some indications that this approach may be improving the local economy and several other places are now implementing a similar approach. As being out of work, on low income or in poor housing are major causes of poor health, these changes could lead to improvements in health, however, at the moment we do not know if they have done, or which of these changes had the biggest effect. Our research aims to investigate the impact of the Preston Community Wealth Initiative on peoples’ mental health so that other areas can learn from this approach when developing their economic strategies.
We will calculate the effect of the Community Wealth Initiative on mental health by comparing changes in mental health in Preston with changes in comparison areas that have similar characteristics but have not implemented a Community Wealth Initiative. We will then work with all the organisations and people involved in the Community Wealth Initiative to understand what has helped or hindered this change in Preston. We will use the findings from this research to help other areas across the UK to influence their local economy so that it promotes health and reduces health inequalities.