A groundbreaking initiative aimed at creating a fairer and healthier living environment in Leeds has been officially launched with the arrival of esteemed academic, researcher, and campaigner. The Leeds City Council and University College London’s Institute of Health Equity (IHE) have joined forces for a two-year project targeting health disparities and their impact on illness and life expectancy.

Drawing upon the extensive research conducted by Professor Sir Michael Marmot, renowned epidemiologist and director of IHE, the program aims to address the “social determinants” that shape individuals’ health outcomes. By focusing on the circumstances in which people are born, grow, live, work, and age, the initiative aims to provide the necessary foundations for good health and bridge the health divide between the city’s affluent and disadvantaged areas.

The program’s key objectives include ensuring every child receives the best start in life, promoting equitable employment opportunities, and fostering healthy and sustainable communities with high-quality housing. To mark the launch, Sir Michael delivered a speech to an audience of 150 local health leaders and influential figures at Leeds Civic Hall’s banqueting suite on Monday, June 12.

Councillor James Lewis, leader of Leeds City Council, opened the event and emphasised the pressing need to address the prevalent health challenges faced by many communities. He acknowledged that poor physical and mental health, along with shortened lifespans, plague numerous neighbourhoods. Councillor Lewis stressed the interconnectedness of health and various external factors such as housing, employment, education, and community support. In this regard, the collaboration with Professor Sir Michael Marmot and his team will ensure Leeds is taking comprehensive action to improve health outcomes by tackling the underlying causes of inequalities.

The event featured additional speakers, including Councillor Salma Arif, executive member for adult social care, public health, and active lifestyles, as well as Councillor Fiona Venner, executive member for children’s social care and health partnerships. A panel discussion was held, with the participation of Tom Riordan, the council’s chief executive, Victoria Eaton, the director of public health, and representatives from the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, NHS West Yorkshire Integrated Care Board, and GIPSIL health and housing charity.

In his keynote address, Sir Michael expressed his delight at collaborating with Leeds and his excitement for the upcoming two years of the program. He emphasised that health inequalities extend beyond access to healthcare and highlighted the significance of addressing social determinants. Sir Michael noted that while living location has a limited impact on the health of the wealthy, it significantly affects the health outcomes of the poorer populations residing in the North East, North West, Yorkshire, Humber, and beyond.

Sir Michael’s influential work, most notably his government-commissioned report Fair Society, Healthy Lives, has shaped public policies globally, including in countries like Holland, Norway, and Brazil. In Leeds, the Marmot program will build upon the existing efforts to improve the health of individuals from all backgrounds, with a particular focus on disadvantaged communities. The council’s Health and Wellbeing Strategy already aims to prioritise those most in need by implementing housing projects that provide affordable, warm, and secure homes.

However, research has indicated that health inequalities persist in Leeds, exacerbated by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in substantial differences in life expectancy between the city’s richest and poorest areas. Through their collaboration with IHE, the council can leverage the expertise of the Marmot team at University College London to tackle these inequalities effectively. The partnership will aid in prioritising local resources, informing commissioning decisions, and supporting funding bids, with the support of partners from the NHS, academia, and the third sector.

The collaboration has granted Leeds the designation of a “Marmot city,” signifying its commitment to strategically addressing inequalities through planned systems and structures. Other Marmot cities and regions across the country include Coventry, Cheshire & Merseyside, and Gwent.

Councillor Salma Arif, executive member for adult social care, public health, and active lifestyles, expressed her optimism about the significant impact the partnership with Sir Michael and the Institute of Health Equity would have on numerous lives. She acknowledged the progress made thus far in ensuring that no one gets left behind in Leeds but stressed the need for continued efforts. Councillor Arif believes that the collaboration will position Leeds better than ever to reduce health inequalities, promote an inclusive economy, and create safer and stronger communities.

Councillor Fiona Venner, executive member for children’s social care and health partnerships, considered it a privilege to host Sir Michael and other distinguished guests at Leeds Civic Hall for the launch event. She emphasised the importance of fairness in realising the council’s Best City Ambition, which envisions a compassionate and caring Leeds with a robust economy. Venner reiterated the council’s commitment to partnership working, which has been instrumental in improving health and well-being across the city. She looks forward to witnessing the positive results that the Marmot program will yield in Leeds.