Life expectancy among women living in the poorest communities in England has declined since 2011, says a report warning of growing health inequalities by Prof Sir Michael Marmot, one of the country's leading experts on health inequalities. It comes 10 years after he first published data on the growing gap between rich and poor, and between north and south, in England.
Overall, life expectancy growth has stalled over the past decade - for the first time in 100 years. This report is concerned with England, but in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland the damage to health and wellbeing is similarly unprecedented. Prof Marmot said, "If health has stopped improving, that means society has stopped improving." Real cuts to people’s incomes are damaging the nation’s health for the long term. Benefit cuts that push single mothers into poorly-paid, part-time jobs – in which they have to juggle families and work– may take their toll. Not only are lifespans stalling, but people are living for more years in poor health. Austerity has taken its toll over the last 10 years in all of these areas, says Marmot in a foreword to the report. “From rising child poverty and the closure of children’s centres, to declines in education funding, an increase in precarious work and zero hours contracts, to a housing affordability crisis and a rise in homelessness, to people with insufficient money to lead a healthy life and resorting to food banks in large numbers, to ignored communities with poor conditions and little reason for hope…Austerity will cast a long shadow over the lives of the children born and growing up under its effects.”
The largest decreases were seen in the most deprived areas of north-east England, while the biggest increases were in the richest parts of London. Similar trends can be seen right across the UK.
The report highlights:
stalling life expectancy for men and women in England since 2010
the more deprived the area, the shorter the life expectancy
among women in the poorest 10% of areas, life expectancy fell between 2010-12 and 2016-18
people in poorer areas spend more of their lives in ill health than those in affluent areas
the amount of time people spend in poor health has gone up across England since 2010
cuts in funding in deprived areas and areas outside London were larger and affected those areas more
The report, from the Institute of Health Equity, maintains the widening health inequalities and deteriorating health which have marked the last decade cannot just be put down to very cold winters, flu, or problems with the NHS or social care. Instead, it points the finger at "social and economic conditions, many of which have shown increased inequalities".
Prof Marmot said similar trends can be seen right across the UK, where the slow-down in life expectancy is more obvious than in most European and other high-income countries, apart from the US. The government must tackle health inequalities "as a matter of urgency" and bring the level of deprived areas in the north up to the level of good health enjoyed by people living in London and the south, the report says. “You talk to local authority after local authority around the country, and they say, ‘We can’t do any more.’ We are closing youth centres, we’re closing Sure Start children’s centres and we are closing libraries, and parks and recreation centres. We can scarcely do what we have to do to fulfil our statutory duty,” said Marmot. The president of the Royal College of Physicians, Prof Andrew Goddard, said the review painted “a stark picture”.