Health Service Focus

29.11.19

Housing, transport and education policy can secure future health of young people

Source: NHE Nov/Dec

 

Jo Bibby, director of health - The Health Foundation.

The future health of young people is our nation’s greatest asset. This premise has been the driving force behind our young people’s future health inquiry. We have spent two years seeking to uncover whether those growing up across the UK have what they need to build a healthy future, namely secure and rewarding work, a place to call home and the support of family, friends and the community.

The inquiry has underlined the biological impact that prolonged exposure to stress can have, leading to physiological wear and tear on our bodies and making us more susceptible to early and avoidable illness. We’ve heard first-hand from young people about the challenges they are facing when transitioning into adulthood, whether that’s the problems facing young people in the private rental sector or transport policy in their local area holding them back from accessing the education or work they need to thrive.

These areas of a young person’s life are not often associated with creating the opportunity for a healthy life and are approached by policymakers in isolation. This is why, for the final phase of the inquiry, we set out to develop policy recommendations in partnership with experts from across housing, employment, mental health and transport among others. Whilst we have worked to develop policy recommendations unique to each sector, what is apparent across all is that there is a lack of appropriate advice and guidance available to young people ranging from support in deciding their employment pathways to knowing their rights in a changing rental market. Getting this support right is vital to giving young people the chance of a healthy life.

As a starting point for addressing some of the biggest challenges that the inquiry identified we are prioritising housing, education and transport. A recent study found that private renters had a higher level of inflammatory C-reactive protein (CRP) – a measure of chronic stress response linked to long term health and an overhaul of the private rental sector would address this. We are also supporting calls for a Government review of the impact schools are having on mental health, with Young Minds recently reporting that 90% of school leaders have seen an increase in the number of students experiencing anxiety or stress. Transport has been identified in various studies as a barrier to work and therefore is a barrier to good health, we must provide all young people seeking employment with affordable transport options.

Whilst these can be viewed as wider societal issues, they all eventually have consequences for people’s health. Which is why we need a whole Government approach that not only considers the impact of how social policies are developed on people’s long-term health but one that also recognises that these societal issues need to be firmly part of health policy.

Our inquiry has found that young people are at the sharp end of siloed decision making by Government and as a result, their long-term health is being put at risk. It is time that Government recognise that today’s young people are tomorrow’s nurses, engineers, entrepreneurs and parents. Our future depends on them, and it is vital they are able to build the foundations needs for a healthy life.

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