Health Key to Levelling Up: Time to Bring ‘Health’ into ESG

Wealth or Health concept. Turning wooden dice with text. Copy space

Health equals wealth

The pandemic has highlighted the systemic issues that drive poor health and health inequalities – and how inextricably linked health is to wealth.

The government published its Levelling Up White Paper on 2 February, with 12 missions to address these systemic issues, including Missions 7 and 8 to achieve five extra years of healthy life expectancy while closing the gap in health and wellbeing inequalities.

The Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID) is focussed on addressing health disparities in its white paper due to be published in the summer- recognising health is fundamental to current government priorities to level up opportunities and drive economic growth.

Matthew Taylor, Chief Executive of the NHS Confederation, says, “the government and healthcare system can only address some of the systemic issues leading to poor health, and there is growing awareness that many of the solutions lie outside the NHS.”

Powerful role of business to drive health

The report by the CBI, Seize the Moment, shows that businesses could significantly reduce disease burden,  enabling people to remain in the workforce for longer, be more productive with a better quality of life, and leading to reduced demand on the NHS and social care system.  Jordan Cummins, Health Director at CBI says that “business-led intervention to enhance employee health could reduce the current fiscal burden of £300 billion by 10-20% in the UK.”

Employers could be responsible for a potential 10-20% of disease burden reduction in the 18-65 age group; 70% of this disease burden reduction attributable to employers could come from just three interventions: 1) Musculoskeletal conditions 27% (e.g treating back pain); 2) mental health 25% (e.g Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and 3) ergonomics 14% (workspace, seating, chair positioning).

On mental health specifically, an analysis by Deloitte published in January 2020 found that poor mental health costs UK employers up to £45 billion each year. This is a rise of 16% since 2016 – an extra £6 billion a year.

Contributing to the overall disease burden are high levels of preventable health risks, particularly excess weight and obesity, and adverse lifestyles such as smoking, which affect all social groups, though disproportionately those in lower socioeconomic cohorts.

The business community has immense power to drive positive change and impact. The total value of pension funds invested in the U.K. each year is about the same size as the U.K. economy and the total assets under management is more than double that, so the power of investing is huge.

Jennifer Dixon, Chief Executive of the Health Foundation, says: “This power can be used to influence the risk factors that can damage your health, like unhealthy food, poor work, pollution, gambling, and poor housing, but it can also be used to promote health.”

Health adds to the nation’s GDP.  One extra year of longevity is worth £60bn to UK, or £1,000pp, according to Andy Haldane, new CEO of the RSA at the launch of the Health Foundation’s  Economies for Healthier Lives.

Health into ESG: ESHG

Given the increasing evidence showing health impacts on global prosperity, the time is coming to bring health into an ESG framework focussed on outcomes. The positive and negative health impacts of companies can, along with climate impacts, be assessed to encompass 3 key areas: direct impact on employee health, secondary impacts via products and services sold and contribution to community and societal resilience.

With health data plentiful and objectively credible, and at least on a par with climate data, the time is now to incorporate “H” into “ESHG.”  John Godfrey, Corporate Affairs Director at Legal & General, a British multinational financial services and asset management company, says, “it is clear health equals wealth, but health has been missing from the environmental and social factors that investors take seriously. There’s a lot more we can do as investors to make sure that health outcomes and economic outcomes are seen as being aligned. I think the ESG framework should be even more explicit and call out health to become part of ESHG.”

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Dame Carol Black, Chair Centre for Ageing Better concludes: “It is in the interests of business to have healthier workforces, especially at a time of labour supply shortages and older workers dropping out of the workforce due to ill health. That includes SMEs – who constitute the largest part of private sector workforce, but who need additional support to access resources and services that will promote the health of their employees.”

Business for Health (B4H) with the CBI are working together to develop and contribute ideas to the Government’s White Paper on Health Disparities. The Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID) are developing this as part of their Levelling Up plans and it’s expected to be published in the summer. B4H, CBI and OHID we are working together to ‘reset the dial’ on the role of business in health and stimulate a different conversation on what drives good health.

Jonathan Marron, Director General for the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities says “We all have our part to play in creating a healthier nation; and we will all see the benefits if we succeed. It is really positive to see business prioritising the health of their employees and thinking more about ensuring healthier products for their customers. We welcome the commitment shown by Business for Health and the CBI and look forward to working on this shared agenda going forward.”

Call for Case Studies by 27 May for White Paper on Disparities

B4H is calling for businesses and employers to submit case studies that demonstrate the positive role of business to enhance health and/or reduce health disparities that can be considered for the submission to the white paper and/or inform the Business for Health Framework.  Please register your interest here.

About the Author: Tina Woods, CEO, Business for Health

Tina is a social entrepreneur who brings diverse stakeholders together to address the system changes needed to improve health for all. She is Founder and CEO of Collider Health and works with private, public and third sectors. Tina is also the Director of  the All Party Parliamentary Group for Longevity and leads the Open Life Data Framework. She is Co-Founder and CEO of Business for Health, a business-led coalition of socially responsible employers, purchasers, investors and innovators that is developing a Business Framework for Health with the CBI, bringing in ‘Health’ into ‘ESG’ mandates to support long-term sustainable innovation and investment in preventative health and care.



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