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The relationship between poverty and NHS services

This report by The King's Fund illustrates the relationship between poverty and NHS services.

Posted on behalf of The King’s Fund

Currently it is estimated that more than one in five people in the UK are living in poverty. Living in poverty has a profound impact on people’s health and how they use NHS services. From greater prevalence of a wide range of diseases and difficulties in accessing health care, to later treatment and worse health outcomes, poverty affects every stage of the patient journey.

Living in poverty makes it harder for people to manage their health well. To give a couple of examples, if money is short it can be more difficult to eat healthily, and people living in poverty to may be more likely to live in unhealthy or dangerous conditions.

As well as taking a significant toll on individuals, poverty also leads to additional costs for the NHS. In 2016, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) estimated the cost of poverty on health care (ie, additional public spending due to greater health care need and use) at £29 billion (£34 billion in current prices). Since that report, the situation has got worse: the number of people living in poverty has increased since 2015/16, and the proportion of those people living in deep poverty has risen.

This long read by The King’s Fund looks at the link between poverty and each of the following:

  • prevalence of ill health
  • difficulties accessing health care
  • late or delayed treatment (and higher NHS costs)
  • poorer health outcomes.


These four issues can be seen across a wide range of NHS services, from emergency care to dentistry. As well as highlighting this breadth, it is hoped that this long read will lead local and NHS leaders to consider the role poverty plays when making plans to manage and improve services. It highlights some existing resources that may help tackle the issues.

As it is said “taking action on this is one of the biggest things we can do to influence and change health outcomes and inequalities” (Senior leader in public health, ICB).