False economies

This latest report from UK think tank the IEA looks at public health spending and, in particular, monies for infectious disease prevention.

The coronavirus outbreak in Britain has raised questions about the use of public health resources and about the costs and benefits of the ‘lockdown’. It has been argued that the government’s response to the epidemic was weakened by cuts to the public health budget. It is widely believed that spending on public health saves money in the long term by reducing future healthcare costs. In 2018/19, Public Health England had a budget of £4 billion, of which £3.13 billion was given to local authorities as ring-fenced grants. Like-for like public health spending by local authorities fell by 17 per cent between 2014/15 and 2018/19, but this has little bearing on the government’s response to COVID-19 because the responsibility for dealing with such epidemics lies with Public Health England and the NHS. There has been no cut in Public Health England’s budget for infectious disease prevention. On the contrary, between 2014/15 and 2018/19, PHE’s budget for ‘protection from infectious diseases’ rose from £52 million to £86.9 million.

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