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Social Justice

Life expectancy is falling in England’s most deprived areas

Life expectancy in the UK’s poorest areas is at its lowest level since officials started to compare the figure by region.

New figures show the yawning gap between rich and poor in England is widening as life expectancy fell rapidly in the most deprived areas. Men born in the poorest areas of the country are now expected to live almost 10 years fewer than those living in the richest areas, and women eight years fewer.

The gap is even wider for healthy life expectancy, where rich people are expected to have an extra 20 years of good health compared to poorer people. Women in England’s poorest areas are expected to live less than two-thirds (66.3 per cent) of their lives in good general health.

The news was described as a “sickening increase in health inequality” by Chris Thomas, principal health fellow at think tank the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR), who blamed the government’s failure to invest in the country’s health.

“The brutal reality is people in the most deprived parts of our country can expect to die nearly a decade earlier than those in the richest, on average,” he told The Big Issue.

“We must not pretend this is purely down to the pandemic – a temporary blip in an otherwise rosy picture. Rather, it is down to long-term government failure to prioritise, and invest in, good health as a national mission.”

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A government spokesperson said a white paper on health disparities due later this year would set out how plans to “reduce the gap in health outcomes between different areas”.

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Men are now expected to live to the age of 73.5 in poor areas, compared to 83.2 in rich areas. Women in England’s poorest areas are expected to live just past their 78th birthday, but past their 86th in rich areas.

The latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures detailing the most deprived areas in the country are from 2019, and show Middlesbrough, Liverpool, Knowsley, Kingston upon Hull and Manchester are the local authorities with the highest proportions of neighbourhoods among the most deprived.

As many as 14.5 million people in the UK were living in poverty before the pandemic, according to government figures. In-work poverty also hit record levels, with one in six working households struggling to make ends meet, according to IPPR.

The new life expectancy figures, for 2018 to 2020, include the first year of the pandemic and show a “significant” drop for people living in England’s poorest areas compared to the previous period, by 0.6 years for men and 0.5 years for women.

Life expectancy in the richest areas also fell but only slightly, by 0.3 years for men and 0.1 years for women.

Life expectancy in England’s poorest areas is at its lowest level since the ONS started comparing rich and poorer areas of the country. In the 2011-2013 period, men in the poorest areas had a life expectancy of 73.9 years, compared to 73.8 years now, and women had a life expectancy of 79 years, compared to 78.3 years now.

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Life expectancy in richest areas has only increased, however. Data for the 2011-2013 period shows male life expectancy at 82.9 years, now up to 83.2 years, and female life expectancy increased from 85.9 to 86.3.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We are committed to levelling up health across the country and our Health Disparities White Paper, due later this year, will set out action to reduce the gap in health outcomes between different places, so that people’s backgrounds do not dictate their prospects for a healthy life.

“We are also helping local authorities improve public health by increasing their grant to just over £3.4 billion this year. We are investing a further £36 billion in overall health and care over the next three years to put in place comprehensive reforms that are sustainable and fit for the future.”

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