Healthy lifestyles will help create healthier economy

A project that seeks to improve the health and lifestyles of communities across Ayrshire is set to move forward as part of the Ayrshire Growth Deal.

At a recent meeting of the Ayrshire Economic Joint Committee, the Full Business Case for the ‘Working for a Healthy Economy’ project was approved and officially signed off by all partners.  Scottish Government will commit £5 million to the project.

This proposal forms part of the wider £251 million Ayrshire Growth Deal (AGD) plans and is seen as a vital element in reducing the impact poor health can have on employment.

Before Covid-19 struck, Ayrshire had almost 21,000 people claiming health related benefits. Of the Job Seekers Allowance/ Universal Credit claimant group of 10,785 pre Covid, up to a third were estimated to have health issues as a barrier to employment, even though this is not severe enough for them to qualify for a health-related benefit. Health is clearly a significant barrier to economic activity and productivity for too many people in Ayrshire.

And the importance of public health and the need for a healthy and productive workforce has never been greater in these covid-19 times.

The project recognises that doing more of the same will have little impact. It will target large scale investment in occupational health services to ensure that Ayrshire has the requisite workforce to drive economic growth in the future.

The unique aspect of this AGD project is that it offers a person centred and criteria free, single access point to provide focused health support across Ayrshire.

NHS Salus have been delivering health supports to unemployed North Ayrshire residents since 2016, but within the ‘Working for a Healthy Economy’ project they will also cater for employed people with health issues and support employers.

Over the next five years, the AGD team hope to support nearly 10,000 people, which will include helping approximately 1,300 unemployed people across Ayrshire back into work.

Councillor Joe Cullinane, Leader of North Ayrshire Council and chair of the Joint Committee said: “The Working for a Healthy Economy project addresses a key pillar of Community Wealth Building: fair employment and just labour markets. Health is a key element of Fair Work and as such close links between the CWB project and Working for a Healthy Economy will be established.

“Poor health is a constraint to economic growth and low levels of inclusive economic growth impact

negatively on health. It is very much a vicious circle and one that needs addressed.

“When we were working on this project it was clear that doing more of the same wouldn’t cut it. There are lots of good work being done across Ayrshire.  What we are proposing involves elements which have already been tested successfully with the opportunity to scale this up across Ayrshire and develop one simple model of support.

“The aim of the project is to reach the working age population of Ayrshire who are experiencing health, wellbeing or circumstantial barriers to work and ensure that they receive targeted interventions and coaching support to achieve progress. While specific groups will be targeted, the intention is to create a criteria free service, as we believe this has resulted in previous services of this type being too restrictive and confusing.”

Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity, Michael Matheson, said:

“It is great to see projects progressing positively since the signing of the Deal last year, helping Ayrshire become a leading area for inclusive growth in Scotland. By targeting investment in occupational health services, the project will ensure that Ayrshire has the requisite workforce to take advantage of the Growth Deal and wider economic opportunities helping to drive inclusive growth throughout.

“The Scottish Government is committing £103 million pounds to the Ayrshire Growth Deal, which will help drive future growth and prosperity and unlock investment. In a period of economic uncertainty and challenge, delivery of the Ayrshire Growth Deal is more important than ever with the projects re-invigorating the regional economy.

“Across Scotland we have so far committed more than £1.9 billion over the next 10 to 20 years to City Region and Growth Deals and additional investments.”