Millions wasted on food schemes as the rich-poor health gap grows

Short-term, headline-grabbing programmes have done little for the well-being of lower social classes

The health gap between the nation's rich and poor has widened over the past decade, despite millions of pounds of public money spent on tackling health inequalities, according to a parliamentary committee.

Ministers have rolled out short-term policies driven by a desire for positive publicity, rather than concentrating on longer, more effective measures that could make a real impact, says a Health Select Committee report.

In a damning conclusion, its report warns that the true impact of multimillion-pound schemes aimed at improving the health of Britain's poorest people is unknown because proper data about the results of such initiatives is rarely collected.

The report, published today, also highlights the Government's failure to roll out simple measures that would help people to stop smoking, eat better, and live healthier lives. MPs say they are "appalled" by the failure to introduce a clear food labelling system, four years after they first recommended it. Fast-food outlets and tobacco smuggling must be better controlled because they contribute heavily to health inequalities between the richest and poorest, the report argues. It also backs the call by the celebrity chef Jamie Oliver for compulsory cookery lessons for schoolchildren.

Kevin Baron, the Labour MP who chairs the committee, said: "We were shocked by the numbers of people who rely on takeaway food. The Government must make a quick decision and introduce a traffic-light system of labelling on all foods. This will make a big difference to many people's health.

"Governments have to start thinking long-term because individual lifestyles are the biggest threat to public health in the 21st century. Finding more effective ways to help people to change their behaviour will take more than three-year or four-year programmes that sound brilliant politically and look good in the media."

Britons from lower social classes die younger, smoke more, are more likely to be obese and have higher rates of infant mortality than people from the highest social classes, according to official figures. These health inequalities have widened despite the Government's ambitious target to reduce the gap by 10 per cent by 2010.

The year-long cross-party inquiry found that while the health of all groups is improving, the gap between rich and poor has increased by 11 per cent among women and 4 per cent in men since 1998. It is critical of the fact that millions have been spent on programmes such as Health Action Zones, whose effectiveness is not proven. MPs are critical of the fact the Government's much-vaunted Sure Start has been extended nationwide without convincing evidence to justify it.

Tammy Boyce, from the King's Fund think-tank, said: "Ministers don't want to evaluate because who wants to be told millions have been spent on a programme that doesn't work? So they just keep pressing for more innovation. Well, guess what? People on the ground have had enough. They want time and money to figure out what works."

The report criticises the lack of co-operation between Whitehall departments, despite assurances from the Secretary of State for Health, Alan Johnson, that civil servants worked so closely together on tackling health inequalities that they were almost "joined at the hip". Pointedly, the report says that if such "joined-up working" was truly the best in Whitehall, "this must mean that elsewhere it is very poor".

The Government underestimates the barriers to healthy eating, the report warns. It argues that people need cheap, convenient access to healthy food – and the skills to cook it – rather than a multiplicity of takeaways.



Fresh ideas: 'We need healthy eating lessons'

Adele Hinchcliffe, 32, is an ex-smoker and the single mum of Lauren, 12, and Olivia, eight. They live in Brinnington, an area of deprivation and high unemployment near Stockport. Adele smoked "cheap" rolling tobacco between the ages of 19 and 30. She was never offered help by her GP or midwife, but finally quit on her own. The family relied on ready meals and takeaways until Lauren's weight reached nearly 10 stone last year and her mother sought help from the obesity programme, Mend. Now the family understand food labels and are angry at being conned by "low-fat" claims. The children eat school dinners so Adele would like to see chips and burgers taken away. "All the kids and parents should be taught about healthy eating by the school. Otherwise healthy school dinners won't make any difference."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Arts and Entertainment
tvGame of Thrones season 5 ep 4, review - WARNING: contains major spoiliers!
News
Tottenham legend Jimmy Greaves has defended fans use of the word 'Yid'
people
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West, performing in New York last week, has been the subject of controversy as rock's traditional headline slot at Glastonbury is lost once again
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living