Health is on the ballot paper in England’s elections

By Stuart Bonar, Public Affairs Advisor on 28 April 2021 Politics Government Welsh Government

On 6 May, voters across Britain will choose who will make decisions affecting their lives in a patchwork of elections for councillors, mayors, police and crime commissioners, as well as members of both the Scottish and Welsh Parliaments.

We will cover the elections to the Scottish and Welsh Parliaments in blog posts as polling day approached. This post will focus on the elections that are taking place in England (and the police and crime commissioner elections, which are also taking place in Wales).

Around 5,000 council seats on 145 councils are up for grabs, from Cornwall to the Scottish border. Voters in 13 areas of England will also directly elect a local mayor, including in London where they will also choose who sits on the London Assembly. And across both England and Wales, people will elect 39 police and crime commissioners.

Confused? Well, we are here to help.

A great first step is to visit the Electoral Commission website where you can just input your postcode and find out which elections are taking place where you live – and get a list of all the candidates who are standing too. You can do the same with the Who Can I Vote For? website, where you can find out more about those candidates.

But what role do these people have when it comes to health and the NHS?

The powers are strongest in Greater Manchester where a £6 billion combined budget for the NHS and social care is controlled locally. That area is headed up by a directly elected mayor, currently ex-health secretary Andy Burnham (who is seeking re-election). So, voters in Greater Manchester should contact the mayoral candidates if they have questions about the local NHS.

Other mayors and councils do not have direct control over the local NHS but they can try to influence things. Take the capital, for example, where the Mayor of London, currently Sadiq Khan (seeking re-election), brings together a quarterly London Health Board. Most recently, in February, that was looking at the disparities in how the pandemic was hitting Londoners.

Many councils across England (Nottinghamshire County Council, for example) have health and wellbeing boards that push forward on issues like mental health and have a say over local reorganisations. In that council’s health and wellbeing board’s last meeting, as an example, they discussed their plans to improve breastfeeding rates, including how many accredited breastfeeding-friendly venues there were in each part of the county.

Councils are also responsible for public health. Shropshire Council’s most recent Public Health Annual Report, for instance, details the action they have been taking to cut smoking in pregnancy. Councils from Devon to Wakefield have set up schemes to encourage breastfeeding, including getting local businesses on board to support breastfeeding too. Durham County Council issues advice about staying healthy in pregnancy.

Even in the elections for local police and crime commissioners there are issues that can be raised that impact on the work of midwives and MSWs. One example would be domestic abuse and how the candidates to be the next commissioner for your area would work with police to ensure pregnant women in particular are able to seek and obtain help. What attention will they give this issue when it comes to drawing up their local police and crime plan?

Voters in England will not be choosing a new government on 6 May in the way that voters in Scotland and Wales will be. But that does not mean that when they go to the polls to elect councillors and mayors as well as police and crime commissioners, health is not on the ballot paper. It most assuredly is. So, if you have a vote in these elections, please do find out what candidates are saying, contact them and ask them about issues important to you, and be sure to vote in these elections.