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Exploring the local policy context for reducing health inequalities in children and young people: an in depth qualitative case study of one local authority in the North of England, UK

Holding, Eleanor and Fairbrother, Hannah and Griffin, Naomi and Wistow, Jonathan and Powell, Katie and Summerbell, Carolyn (2021) 'Exploring the local policy context for reducing health inequalities in children and young people: an in depth qualitative case study of one local authority in the North of England, UK.', BMC Public Health, 21 (1). p. 887.


Background Improving children and young people’s (CYP) health and addressing health inequalities are international priorities. Reducing inequalities is particularly pertinent in light of the Covid-19 outbreak which has exacerbated already widening inequalities in health. This study aimed to explore understandings of inequality, the anticipated pathways for reducing inequalities among CYP and key factors affecting the development and implementation of policy to reduce inequalities among CYP at a local level. Methods We carried out a qualitative case study of one local government region in the North of England (UK), comprising semi structured interviews (n = 16) with service providers with a responsibility for child health, non-participant observations of key meetings (n = 6 with 43 participants) where decisions around child health are made, and a local policy documentation review (n = 11). We employed a novel theoretical framework, drawing together different approaches to understanding policy, to guide our design and analysis. Results Participants in our study understood inequalities in CYP health almost exclusively as socioeconomically patterned inequalities in health practices and outcomes. Strategies which participants perceived to reduce inequalities included: preventive support and early intervention, an early years/whole family focus, targeted working in local areas of high deprivation, organisational integration and whole system/place-based approaches. Despite demonstrating a commitment to a social determinants of health approach, efforts to reduce inequalities were described as thwarted by the prevalence of poverty and budget cuts which hindered the ability of local organisations to work together. Participants critiqued national policy which aimed to reduce inequalities in CYP health for failing to recognise local economic disparities and the interrelated nature of the determinants of health. Conclusions Despite increased calls for a ‘whole systems’ approach to reducing inequalities in health, significant barriers to implementation remain. National governments need to work towards more joined up policy making, which takes into consideration regional disparities, allows for flexibility in interpretation and addresses the different and interrelated social determinants of health. Our findings have particular significance in light of Covid-19 and indicate the need for systems level policy responses and a health in all policies approach.

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Date accepted:07 April 2021
Date deposited:22 September 2021
Date of first online publication:10 May 2021
Date first made open access:22 September 2021

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