Life expectancy in the UK has grown at a slower rate than comparable countries over the past seven decades, according to researchers, who say this is the result of widening inequality.
According to a new analysis of global life expectancy rankings published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine the UK lags behind all other countries in the group of G7 advanced economies except the USA.
While life expectancy has increased in absolute terms, similar countries have experienced larger increases.
In the 1950s, the UK had one of the longest life expectancies in the world, ranking seventh globally behind countries such as Denmark, Norway and Sweden, but in 2021 the UK was ranked 29th. This was partly due to income inequality, which rose considerably in the UK during and after the 1980s.
Prof Martin McKee, of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said: “That rise also saw an increase in the variation in life expectancy between different social groups. One reason why the overall increase in life expectancy has been so sluggish in the UK is that in recent years it has fallen for poorer groups. While politicians invoke global factors, especially the effects of the pandemic and the invasion of Ukraine, the reality is that, as in the 1950s, the country suffers from major structural and institutional weaknesses.”
One of the co-authors, Dr Lucinda Hiam of Oxford University, explained, "A relative worsening of population health is evidence that all is not well. It has historically been an early sign of severe political and economic problems. This new analysis suggests that the problems the UK faces are deep-seated and raises serious questions about the path that this country is following.”
Dr Jonathan Filippon, senior lecturer in health systems at Queen Mary University of London, said social inequality had worsened in the UK and US because of the “predominant ideologies”.
“The major liberal approach to nation states inaugurated by the duo Thatcher and Reagan had disastrous consequences to their population’s levels of equality,” he said. “While markets can continue to thrive in countries – even during a crisis such as we’ve seen recently with the UK energy sector – they can also exacerbate inequalities as well.”