Poverty and Inequality

30.01.17

Smoking creates £760m annual social care bill for cash-strapped councils

Smoking is costing local authorities and individuals an enormous £1.4bn in social care costs to cover the growing needs of people with smoking-related illnesses, a parliamentary report has found.

The research, conducted by Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) and published following an inquiry by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Smoking and Health, reveals that local authorities are now paying £760m on domiciliary care for people with smoking-related illness, up from £600m in 2012, while individuals are facing their own £630m top-up costs.

The report warns that the problem is only going to get worse, with central government planning to cut councils’ access to a public health grant to support stop smoking services. Previous research by Cancer Research UK early last year found that around 40% of councils were scaling back or recommissioning their stop smoking services.

 “Evidence presented to the APPG on Smoking and Health shows that smoking is contributing to the current social care crisis,” said Bob Blackman MP, chair of the APPG. “The situation will worsen if funding to local stop smoking services continues to be cut.

“Smoking is the leading cause of health inequalities in the UK so this puts at serious risk progress towards the Prime Minister’s ambition to reduce the burning injustice caused by inequality.”

The APPG has urged the government to publish its new Tobacco Control Plan, which is already a year overdue, calling upon the government, NHS and councils to work together to tackle the harm caused by smoking and continue the habit’s long-term decline.

In addition to the reversal of the cuts to stop smoking services, the report also recommends that all NHS hospitals become fully smoke-free, and asks the government to reconsider a controversial levy on tobacco manufacturers similar to the precedent set by its new sugar tax.

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of ASH, said that smoking places an enormous pressure on health and social care, in addition to many thousands of carers who have to care for their loved ones.

“We know that most local authorities remain committed to reducing smoking but key services are under threat from public health funding cuts,” Arnott said. “In some areas this is being made worse by a lack of engagement from NHS partners.

“Local and national action is urgently needed to ensure the continuity of support to help smokers quit.”

Margaret Willcox, president elect of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Care, said that rising demand and the increased cost of care has left strain on providers, councils and the NHS, urging the government to make more than short term steps.

“Preventing people from needing care in the first place is vital and reducing smoking can make an important contribution both to reducing the costs of care to councils and improving the quality of life for many who may otherwise need years of care,” Willcox said.

Shirley Cramer, the chief executive of the health education charity the Royal Society for Public Health, said that the report showed another example of the government asking for “more to be done with less”.

“We know that smoking is the leading cause of health inequalities in the UK – it is responsible for half the difference in life expectancy between richest and poorest social classes,” Cramer commented.

“So if Theresa May is to follow through on her belief in fighting the “burning injustice” of health inequality, a commitment to reduce tobacco-driven harm through the measures recommended by this report would represent a much needed first step.”

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