Percentage of people are limited a little or a lot in their daily activbity by disability or illness
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‘It’s stressing and it’s depressing if you don’t work’ – why Wales is one of UK’s unhealthiest places
WITH areas where as much a third of the population reports poor health, Wales remains one of the unhealthiest places to live in the UK – and the census shows nothing much has changed in 10 years.
However, experts suggest, to see an improvement in the next census, Welsh society as a whole may need to change.
There are 10 wards in Wales where a third or more of people are living with illnesses or disabilities that limit their day to day activities. In a third of all wards, a quarter or more of people are similarly affected
While changes in the questions make direct comparisons more difficult, figures from the 2001 census are similar and suggest little has changed in a decade.
Professor Gareth Williams, from Cardiff University School of Social Sciences, said the issue is not a Welsh problem but one that affects areas in England with a similar history of deindustrialisation.
He said: “The poor health in these areas is the result of long trends of decline. In the areas, you’ve got these long term pressures that have been going on since the ’70s and ’80s, of old work disappearing. The poor health in these areas is from a combination of factors
“You’ve still got people who worked in those old, hard industries, and who have resulting poor health. Then you have young people whose health is poor because they’ve lived with the long term consequences of no work in the areas which just begins to affect their self-esteem.”
He said if there is work it may only be temporary and insecure or its far away and hard to access, either because transport is poor or because people may not be able to move easily because of family caring responsibilities.
Coralie Chinick, 25, is a single mother with two children living in Maerdy, Rhondda Cynon Taf, and has depression and asthma. Hers is a community with high levels of poor health and she describes many of the problems Prof Williams identifies.
She said: “There’s not much up here, you have to go to Tonypandy to go to Asda. And buses are really expensive.
“It’s stressing and depressing if you don’t work.
“There’s people like us that have children, and childcare costs. (My son) is in Flying Start, I don’t think it’s fair he’s in Flying Start but you have to live in certain streets to get in and I think that’s wrong they don’t get that.”
When asked if she thought the area contributed to her ill-health, she said there are bad bits to all communities. She is planning to volunteer and take courses so she can hopefully find a job once her youngest is in school full-time.
Erika Helps, chief executive of Rhondda Taf Citizens Advice Bureau, said the combination of financial difficulties and ill-health can make it harder for people to improve their lives.
She said: “You don’t have the same access to transport, you don’t have the money for further education, to support other members of your family to go on to further education. There’s an awful lot that follows from long term disability.
“Caring responsibilities mean people are not in a position to become economically active if the support services aren’t there. Our experience is it’s still quite patchy. You have to go out and look for them.”
Map below shows the percentage of people in each local authority area, who reported their general wellbeing as bad or very bad in the 2011 Census"
Chief executive of Disability Wales, Rhian Davies, said the charity is campaigning for policies that support disabled people to live independent lives, particularly by getting services to work together to make the world more accessible.
She said: “We’ve got one of the highest proportions of disabled people across the UK. I suppose the issue then is to what extent provision and services in Wales meet (the needs of the) number of people who need particular kinds of adjustments, whether that’s access to buildings, support with employment.
“It’s the barriers in society that have more of a disabling effect – if a building isn’t accessible, or sign language isn’t provided. Those are the barriers that will prevent you from being involved in society.
“If you’re not able to walk, that will stay the same, if the environment around you is more accessible and you have a decent wheelchair that means what you can do is less limited. The impact of not been able to walk will change because the environment around you will change so that you can access it on the same basis as anyone else.”
Prof Williams also sees the environment people live in as having a big impact on their lives and their health, with the need to change that, with changes such as education policy that improves people’s employability, more important than drives to get people to change the behaviour that is often the result of the conditions they are living in.
While he supports drives to reduce smoking, it was a big ask to get people to make difficult life changes when they are living with low self-esteem and little hope or optimism.
Other changes such as eating healthily may be hard to implement in communities with one poorly stocked shop and few transport links.
However, UK Government cuts may make it harder to make these changes, with cuts to leisure services and support groups likely in coming years.
Natalie Jones, is the service manager at New Horizons, in Aberdare. The charity supports people with mental health issues, offering counselling, activity groups and courses on things like confidence building, money management and creative writing.
She said while the Welsh Government’s Mental Health Measure campaigns such as Time to Change are reducing the stigma of mental illness and showing that mental health problems are a priority, the support services for those seeking help are being impacted by tight budgets.
“People are very isolated, isolation is one of the biggest problems,” she said.
“We changed in April to four days a week, before that we were open seven days a week, we were open to six, seven at night. The need is there but the funding doesn’t match.
“Service users expressed a need for long hours, that’s not what happened.”
Dr Peter Bradley, executive director of Public Health Development for Public Health Wales, said it was working with local and national government, businesses, charities and communities across Wales to ensure that health is at the top of the agenda when planning and delivering services.
He said: “Health isn’t just about hospitals – it is part of our everyday lives. We are working hard to make sure people have the support they need to improve their health, not just at their local GP, but also at their local library and leisure centre, in their communities, and at work.
“The census figures remind us that Wales is behind the curve in many areas of health improvement.”
He said, frustratingly many health problems are avoidable, adding that Public Health Wales is consulting on recommendations from a review on how health improvement programmes can be delivered to get the best results.
Wales bottom of good health league, finds census
Data: Census - Proportion of people with poor health - 2011