The government is cutting and freezing the amount of public health cash it gives to councils per person in areas across the country, according to official figures.
Despite the pandemic 31 local authorities will see a fall in their public health grants this financial year, while a further 69 will have the amount they are given by Whitehall frozen.
Each year ministers give councils ring-fenced cash for public health duties like outbreak planning, substance misuse services, and sexual health services – but in recent years the amount has been cut by around £1bn.
Areas to be hit by a per capita cut in their public health allocation for 2021/22 include Wakefield, Doncaster, Peterborough, and Rochdale – all parts of the country with Covid-case rates above 100 per 100,000 population.
Council public health teams have in particular been praised for their effectiveness in contact tracing during the pandemic, with success rates far beyond that of the government’s own outsourced test and trace system.
The government said it was providing “extensive support” to local authorities.
But Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s shadow health secretary, warned that the approach to budgeting was “dangerous and irresponsible”.
“Investing in public health is vital to improve health outcomes and narrow inequalities yet over recent years the Tories have a cut £1bn from public health budgets,” he said.
“These cuts contributed to widening health inequalities and greater vulnerability to Covid. A strong local public health response is crucial to getting on the front foot in the battle against Covid in local areas.”
Mr Ashworth added: “Disgracefully the Tories are cutting or freezing on a head for head basis the budgets available for public health teams in 100 towns and communities. Many of these areas are more deprived, have more people suffering from long-term illness or battling high infections rates.
“To fail to invest in public health is dangerous and irresponsible, risking communities being left behind and not fully protected.
“Ministers promised to give councils the resources needed to protect their communities. Rather than cutting budgets, ministers should keep their promise and give towns including Hartlepool, Wakefield and Rochdale the resources they need to drive infections down and vaccination rates up.”
Despite the uneven distribution, the total allocation of public health funding for local authorities in 2021/2022 is £45.4m higher than in 2020/21.
But the figures, collated by the House of Commons Library, show that the increase is less than half that once funding to cover new baked-in costs are taken into account. The government wants councils to distribute anti-HIV drug PrEP and has provided some extra cash for this purpose.
Other councils with their per capita allocation frozen include Rotherham, Barnsley, North Lincolnshire, Bradford, Sheffield, Blackburn with Darwin, Leicester, Thameside, Kirklees, Oldham, and Hartlepool – where a parliamentary by-election is set to take place.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We are providing extensive support for directors of public health, and their teams, to protect and improve the public’s health and wellbeing during the current pandemic, and beyond.
“As well as making over £11bn of funding available to local councils to support them with the costs and impacts of Covid-19, we are increasing the public health grant in 2021-22. This will ensure local authorities can continue to invest in prevention and essential frontline health services.”