A PUBLIC health chief has warned the cost of basic necessities such as fuel and food is the “greatest concern” when it comes to the health of Scots.
Writing in an end-of-year blog post, Angela Leitch, chief executive of Public Health Scotland (PHS), said while the country was managing to “live with Covid”, it is not possible to live with poverty without “dire long-term consequences”.
The cost of living crisis will also have a negative impact on mental health and worsen inequalities that have resulted from the pandemic, she added.
The stark warning comes after PHS published a health impact assessment (HIA) of the rising cost of living in Scotland which found rising inflation and costs could result in more deaths of people under the age of 75, with the poorest suffering worst.
The report, published in December, said the consequences were likely to be different from the last time inflation rose as quickly in the 1970s.
“Although that inflation also had its roots in a fossil fuel supply shock, the impacts are likely to be very different given the profoundly different nature of the economy today,” it said.
“This period of inflation also comes after more than a decade of stalled improvements in mortality trends due to the economic austerity policies introduced after 2010, four decades of increasing mortality inequalities and the covid-19 pandemic: All of which have reduced the resilience of the population and public services.”
In the blog post published just before Christmas, Leitch said: “For the first time since Public Health Scotland (PHS) came into being in April 2020, it is not Covid that dominates my thoughts as we come to the end of the year.
“With a temperature of -4 outside at time of writing, it is the cost of fuel, food, and other basic necessities that’s the greatest concern for the health of the population.
“We are managing to "live with Covid" but no population can manage to live with poverty without dire long-term consequences. These are consequences felt most acutely by individuals, families, and communities.”
It added: “The HIA adds to the evidence that the rising cost of living has a negative impact on mental health.
“This will further compound and exacerbate the inequalities in mental health outcomes that the country was already seeing as a result of the pandemic.”
Leitch is due to step down as chief executive of PHS in the spring, with Paul Johnston taking up the post.