Widening health equalities between wealthy and poor areas of Britain will best be tackled by local communities, a report launched at the Conservative Party Conference warns.

The report says that health inequalities are widening after the pandemic hit the UK’s poorest communities the hardest, adding that the Government should learn from how local authorities are tackling the issue.

For over a decade, successive governments have not made tackling health inequality a priority and it has been left to councils, other public services and community groups to deal with the fallout, the report argues. It points out that central government has not produced a national inequalities strategy since 2010 and that any subsequent action has been “ineffective and piecemeal”.

In his foreword to the report Sir Michael Marmot, professor of epidemiology and public health at University College London, said: “Levelling up will take investment of resources by national government, but actions taken locally and regionally will be vital to achieving greater health equity.”

Sir Michael previously identified a “lost decade” between 2010 and 2020 when the Government’s “No 1 priority was rolling back the state, austerity, and cutting public expenditure”.

He said the impact of the pandemic has exacerbated deep-seated problems which will only be solved through ideas such as involving communities in designing the services that are meant to help them.

The report, by Public Policy Projects and the Institute of Health of Equity, was launched today at a fringe meeting at the Conservative Party conference, with Sir Michael appearing alongside food campaigner Jack Monroe and the former health secretary Stephen Dorrell.

Mr Dorrell said: “It is well known that even the best healthcare cannot close a health inequality gap if social determinants such as employment, housing, and social context are neglected.

“What is less well recognised is that there is now a developing body of evidence which demonstrates that the most effective health policy interventions are undertaken within local communities, and arise as a result of collaborations between local government, local public services and other partners including the commercial and VSCE [Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise] sectors.”

Last week, the Government hailed a “new era of public health to tackle inequalities and level up the nation” through the creation of The Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID). It said OHID marks a “distinct shift in focus” at the heart of Government in addressing the unacceptable health disparities that exist across the country to help people live longer, healthier lives and reduce the pressure on the health and care system.

Sir Michael’s report said the creation of OHID was a “welcome move” but said “tangible action” from national government must come in the form of supporting local networks.

Sir Michael added: “The state of health before and during the pandemic is partly the legacy of a decade of austerity pursued by national governments.

“If the Government fails to respond now, the results will continue to be catastrophic, as they have been over the last decade.

“While national government has been largely inactive on this issue, many effective health policy interventions have been undertaken with local communities, and arise as a result of collaborations between local and regional government, the voluntary and community sector, and business.

“ Action is happening at local level, even in the most difficult of circumstances. Every citizen in the UK deserves the same chance to live a more healthy life.”

A Government spokesperson said: “The pandemic has laid bare the unacceptable health disparities across the country which is why we have launched the new Office for Health Improvement and Disparities.

“This body will help prevent conditions before they develop, reduce pressure on our health and care systems and ensure people live longer, healthier and happier lives.”