Children will be among the hardest hit by council plans to slash public health budgets by £96.3m this year, Labour has claimed.
According to the party’s analysis of government revenue figures, Tory austerity is set to force 85% of local authorities in England to cut their public health budgets in 2018/19.
The findings show that public health funds aimed specifically at children are to be slashed by £25.9m – making up more than a quarter of total cuts.
The move comes two months after the proportion of children finishing primary school severely obese reached a record high, with just over 4% of 10 and 11-year-olds falling into the weight category.
Substance misuse services – which are being cut by 114 councils – will also lose out on £34m worth of funding, Labour’s analysis claimed, while sexual health budgets will be cut by £17.6m.
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the “swingeing” cuts were “short-sighted, cynical and wrong” while drug-related deaths were at an all-time high and STD rates were on the rise.
Warning that cutbacks are pushing the country towards a “public health crisis”, Ashworth said: “Local service which are there to keep people well and out of hospital are being slashed in every part of England.
“The fact is these cuts will leave people sicker, and in the long run will cost the NHS much more than they save,” he continued, calling on ministers to reverse the cuts.
“Labour is determined to narrow health inequalities in society and we’ll start by prioritising the health and wellbeing of every child.”
Responding to the report, the Royal College of Nursing’s lead for public health Helen Donovan said keeping people healthy should “not be treated as an optional extra”.
“Everyone should have the chance to live a longer, healthier life, and keeping people out of hospital saves money long term,” she said.
“Slashing these vital preventative services will hit the poorest hardest, and exacerbate health inequality well into the future.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said there had been significant improvements in public health since 2010, with “robust” government action leading to falling rates of smoking and drug use.
“There is always more to be done, which is exactly why we are giving £16 billion to local councils to fund public health services over the current spending period,” they said.
“We’re supporting them with our world leading childhood obesity plan alongside measures to halve child obesity by 2030, and work is underway to develop a new new alcohol strategy.”