Saturday, September 12, 2015

The wealthier you are – the healthier you are

A boy living in the poorest part of Westminster or Glasgow, Baltimore or Washington can expect to live 20 years fewer than a boy living in the richest part; girls fare slightly better. But most of us do not live in the poorest part of cities and can surely take comfort that this kind of thing doesn’t apply to us. We are wrong. The cause is inequality in the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age; and inequities in power, money and resources that give rise to this inequality.

There is a remarkably close link between where you are on the socioeconomic ladder and your health – the higher the rank, the better the health.  You and I can expect to live for fewer years than the richest and more years than the poorest. The average Brit can expect eight fewer years of healthy life than the person at the top. Unhealthy life means an earlier death and, while you are alive, your hand grip weakens, your mobility declines, your memory and other cognitive functions decline, and various illnesses accumulate. All of these happen at a progressively faster rate the lower down the social hierarchy you are. Those of us in the middle are not immune. We are part of the social gradient in health. And the scale of the problem is enormous.

Just counting premature deaths, before the age of 75, there would be about 202,000 fewer deaths each year if everyone in Britain had the low level of mortality of those with university education (which was less than 10% of the population when the people dying today were of student age). That is about 500 deaths a day. It is a calamity for each of us, potentially, and a tragedy for the nation. If this toll resulted from a pollution, people would take to the streets demanding action.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation uses the criterion of a minimum standard of living in Britain today. It includes food, clothes and shelter. It is about having what you need in order to enjoy the opportunities and choices necessary to participate in society. In 2010, 31% of households with children were below the minimum income threshold. Three years later that had risen to 39%.

From here