A fairer and healthier Waltham Forest – Professor Sir Michael Marmot

by Dec 20, 2023Advocacy, Forest Life

Waltham Forest Council commissioned the UCL Institute of Health Equity (IHE) in January 2022 to assess health inequalities in the borough, particularly in light of COVID-19 pandemic. The IHE was asked to provide evidence about the drivers of health inequalities, and to propose a practical set of actions to address them. In response Professor Sir Michael Marmot leading the team at IHE published a Report, ‘A Fairer and Healthier Waltham Forest: Equity and The Social Determinants in Waltham Forest’[1].

Data from the Office for National Statistics referenced in the report shows that in 2020 the average life expectancy for both men and women in Waltham Forest fell.  It notes that women’s life expectancy fell by 2.6 years, which is more than double the decline in England and steeper than the overall decline in London. Whereas men’s life expectancy fell below the England average for the first time since 2015, and has been slightly below the London average since 2017.

Waltham Forest Marmot

Image source: A Fair and Healthier Waltham Forest | London Borough of Waltham Forest

The report also notes that during the COVID-19 pandemic from March to June 2020 Waltham Forest was one of the five Northeast London boroughs where the risks of mortality were the highest.

The above two findings show that Waltham Forest needs a sustainable system in place to improve the health of its residents for the long-term.  As noted by Michael Marmot, “preventing ill-health is beneficial for the population and the economy. And that efforts at disease prevention need to ensure that they are universal but particularly targeted at those living in the highest levels of deprivation”.

Marmot identified many recommendations for change in order to achieve a fairer and healthier society including: improved housing, better access to employment, better access to health services, increased cost of living crisis support and all employers to pay the London Living Wage.

Most interestingly for Epping Forest Heritage Trust at Policy 5, Marmot recommended :

Create and develop healthy and sustainable places and communities.

“Healthy and sustainable places support good mental and physical health by enabling and encouraging healthy, active and socially engaged lifestyles. Such places feature access to good quality, affordable housing, safe urban and green spaces, opportunities for active travel, and access to quality local amenities and a range of opportunities for social interaction.”

This recommendation would seem to be an opportunity for the Trust to collaborate with Waltham Forest for the better wellbeing of its residents whilst actively furthering one of the aims of the Trust, in particular ‘educating and inspiring people about Epping Forest’.

Polling conducted by Waltham Forest in partnership with the Trust in Spring of 2023 on Waltham Forest residents shows that on average only 36% of residents visit Epping Forest at least once a week.  For those visiting at least once a week more than half come from affluent areas within Waltham Forest, whereas only 24% come from central Waltham Forest.

The data also shows that a larger number of people from more diverse communities have never visited the Forest in comparison to their counterparts. The data shows that 48% of black people and 30% of Asian people have never visited the Forest compared to 17% of white people.  This is despite the fact that Waltham Forest has a very diverse population with more than 40% of its residents being from an ethnic background.[2]

Respondents to the polling suggested better car parking, clearer information around navigation, improved walking and cycling routes and free events would encourage them to visit the Forest more frequently. At the same time data from ONS shows that nearly half of the residents of Waltham Forest live in a household with no means of transportation[3].

The Trust is aware of the trailblazing work that Waltham Forest has done, and continues to do, to improve walking and cycling routes for its residents. The Trust encourages Waltham Forest to continue this good work to give residents improved access to the Forest. By doing this Waltham Forest will improve the well-being of its residents: they will improve their physical exercise, mental health, social interaction, reduce stress, increase their happiness and life satisfaction. All of which goes towards achieving Marmot’s recommendations. Equally, this will allow for the promotion of sustainable transport which should reduce air pollution from car emissions, and in this way also protecting the Forest.

By improving access to the Forest for their residents, residents will also be able to more easily engage with the ongoing activities that the Trust, including our free monthly guided walks and regular conversation sessions, all of which will also contribute to improving the quality of life for Waltham Forest residents.

Amaris Ravenau, EFHT Policy volunteer

 

Notes:

  • [1] Michael Marmot, Jessica Allen, Tammy Boyce, Peter Goldblatt, Scarlet Willis, Owen Callaghan (2022) ‘A Fairer and Healthier Waltham Forest: Equity and The Social Determinants in Waltham Forest’: Institute of Health Equity
  • [2] Source: Office for National Statistics- 2011 Census and Census 2021
  • [3] Source: Office for National Statistics- 2011 Census and Census 2021