Minister quizzed by MPs over Enfield health funding

Seema Kennedy, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care
Seema Kennedy, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care (credit parliament.uk)

Health minister admits borough allocation is based on out-of-date information, reports James Cracknell

A government minister was forced to answer questions in parliament about Enfield’s “unfair” allocation of public health funding – and admitted it was based on out-of-date information.

Health minister Seema Kennedy fielded questions from Enfield North MP Joan Ryan and Enfield Southgate MP Bambos Charalambous over why the borough gets just £48 per head of population when other London boroughs get far more, such as Kensington and Chelsea’s £130 per head.

The Conservative minister was quizzed by the two MPs at Westminster Hall within the Houses of Parliament, following a long-running ‘Fairer Funding’ campaign led by Enfield Over 50s Forum.

Monty Meth, the forum’s 93-year-old president, attended the debate last month and later told the Dispatch: “The forum scored a bullseye when we forced public health minister Seema Kennedy out of her bunker to answer why public health in Enfield is perpetually under-funded.

“While she made no attempt to answer why Enfield’s grant is so much lower than other London boroughs, she admitted this was ‘historical’.

“It means we’ll always be under-funded unless councillors and community leaders cease sitting on the sidelines and join us in demanding fairer funding for Enfield.”

Joan Ryan had begun the half-hour debate on Tuesday 16th July by paying tribute to the work of Enfield Over 50s Forum. The Independent Group for Change MP said: “Their typically dogged campaign to highlight cuts to Enfield’s public health grant and the disparity in per-person funding has forced this issue to the top of our community’s agenda.

“The minister should be well aware of the forum’s work on this matter, given the number of letters that its members have written to her department – although sadly they have not received a considerate ministerial response.

“Enfield has some of the most poverty-stricken and deprived wards in the country, and we all know that poverty and poor health are inextricably linked. According to a recent report by the Child Poverty Action Group, our borough is one of 20 local authorities in the UK with the highest levels of child poverty. There are almost 40,000 children in poverty, or four-in-ten children in the borough.”

Joan said Enfield Council’s ability to deliver public health services was being seriously affected by the lack of adequate government funding. She said: “Enfield is one of the communities to really bear the brunt of these savage cuts. Our borough’s grant is the ninth lowest in London, at £48 per head of population, compared with the London average of £71, and we are getting £2 less per person this year than last year. In total, we are receiving £440,000 less from the public health grant this year than in 2018.”

North London boroughs Haringey, Camden and Islington receive £70, £99 and £104 per head respectively. Asked why, health minister Seema Kennedy said: “When responsibility for local health functions moved from the NHS to local government in 2013, funding for relevant services was transferred to individual local authorities. That was based on historical local spend and the process revealed huge variation across the country. The funding for Enfield is based on what the NHS had been spending there up until 2013.”

This point was picked up by Bambos, who said: “Because baseline funding has been set from 2013, it takes no account of changes in the population of Enfield to do with age, poverty and other factors that might hugely affect the funding that Enfield actually deserves right now.

“A future funding formula needs to take account of need. There should not be the current differentiation.”

Kennedy confirmed the government was considering how to allocate public health funding “in a more needs-based way” rather than continuing to allocate funding based on NHS historical spend. She said: “We recognise that Enfield’s per capita funding breakdown is different from that of other London boroughs, but a per capita basis is not actually a meaningful way of comparing allocations or the best way of determining funding.

“That is precisely because it takes no account of different levels of need and it disregards significant variables that have a major influence on the need for public health interventions.”