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Using the Social Value Act to reduce health inequalities in England through action on the social determinants of health

Local action on health inequalities

The Social Value Act, which came into force in January 2013, requires all public sector commissioners to consider how they could improve the economic, environmental and social wellbeing of their population through their procurement activities.

This legal requirement embeds a wide set of considerations into the existing commissioning cycle and local spending activities. It creates a new opportunity and potential to use local and national commissioning to improve health and reduce health inequalities, through action on the social determinants of health.

In one year (2012-13), over £230bn was spent on public sector procurement of goods and services. This annual expenditure provides an opportunity to generate value over and above the service or goods being commissioned. The Act, while useful at any time, is also an essential tool in a time of spending constraint, as it can help commissioners to ensure that each pound spent creates the maximum possible value for the population.

Public Health England (PHE) commissioned the UCL Institute of Health Equity (IHE) to assess the potential of the Social Value Act to support action to reduce health inequalities. This practice resource document is the outcome of this work and aims to:

  1. Explain what social value means, and how and whether it is used
  2. Set out the reasons to act on social value
  3. Provide information, guidance and examples of local action for local public sector commissioners in order to increase social value in their procurement activities

The legislation applies widely to all public sector procurement organisations including central government departments. However, implementation varies significantly across sectors and organisations. Due to the newness of the legislation, and the variability of action and impact, this resource should be seen as a summary of the current state of play, rather than a final assessment. Social value in commissioning will continue to evolve as awareness and implementation increase, and this will build on the findings and assessments reported here. This practice resource encourages, supports and improves implementation of the Social Value Act in relation to reducing health inequalities.