Sir Michael Marmot, director of the UCL Institute for Health Equity and a leading authority on public health, revealed the coronavirus death rate in Greater Manchester was 25% higher than the England average during the year to March, leading to “jawdropping” falls in life expectancy and widening social and health inequalities across the region over the past year.
His latest report shows life expectancy in north-west England fell in 2020 by 1.6 years for men and 1.2 years for women in 2020, compared with 1.3 years and 0.9 years across England as a whole. Within the region, life expectancy dipped most sharply in the poorer areas. Such a rapid decline was in life expectancy terms “enormous”, Marmot said.
The deteriorating health equalities picture in the region and across similarly deprived areas of the country as a result of longstanding, avoidable socioeconomic inequities and ethnic disadvantage, exacerbated by a decade of spending cuts and amplified by Covid and the effect of prolonged lockdowns, he said.
The findings of the Greater Manchester report were “generalisable” across other deprived areas of England, added Marmot, saying: “It’s pretty bad for life chances to live in poorer parts of London, too. Levelling up shouldn’t only be about the Midlands and the north-east and the north-west of England. Deprived parts of London need attention as well.”
Life expectancy had gone down all around the country but the degree to which people were affected depended on two things: level of deprivation and the region of the country in which they lived. A decade of government spending cuts had left the poorest parts of England in a weakened state when Covid hit in 2020, and there was an urgent need to do things differently, Marmot said, adding that as the UK emerges from the pandemic it would be a “tragic mistake to attempt to re-establish the status quo that existed before”.
Covid-19 mortality rates varied within the region from around 400 males per 100,000 in the poorer boroughs such as Salford and Tameside to fewer than 250 per 100,000 in more affluent Trafford. For women, they ranged from just under 250 per 100,000 in Manchester, to 150 per 100,000 in Stockport. Almost all local authority areas in the region had mortality rates above the England and Wales average.
As well as damaging communities and harming health prior to the pandemic, funding cuts had “harmed local governments’ capacity to prepare for and respond to the pandemic and have left local authorities in a perilous condition to manage rising demand and in the aftermath of the pandemic,” the report said.
Even before the pandemic, the UK had witnessed a stagnation in health improvement that was the second-worst in Europe and widening health inequalities between rich and poor. “That stagnation, those social and regional health inequalities, the deterioration in health for the most deprived people, are markers of a society that is not functioning to meet the needs of its members.”
Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, said: “The pandemic has brutally exposed just how unequal England actually is. People have lived parallel lives over the last 18 months. People in low-paid, insecure work have often had little choice in their level of exposure to Covid, and the risk of getting it and bringing it back home to those they live with.