For the first time in more than 100 years, life expectancy in England has stalled and is declining for women in the poorest areas, a shocking report into health inequality has revealed.
Health Equity In England: The Marmot Review 10 Years On points to austerity and widening health inequalities as key reasons behind the “unprecedented” trend.
Professor Sir Michael Marmot, director of the UCL Institute of Health Equity, said while poverty was an issue, austerity had taken its toll on equity and health.
“This damage to the nation’s health need not have happened,” he said.
“It is shocking. The UK has been seen as a world leader in identifying and addressing health inequalities but something dramatic is happening.
“This report is concerned with England, but in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland the damage to health and wellbeing is similarly unprecedented.”
The life expectancy of women in the most deprived area decile fell by 0.3 years between 2010-12 to 2016-18, compared to those in the top six, which experienced increases of around 0.5 years, the report revealed.
The report also found:
- Child poverty has increased by 22%, compared to Europe’s lowest of 10% in Norway, Iceland and The Netherlands
- School exclusions have increased by 40% and violent youth crime has gone up
- There is a housing crisis and a rise in homelessness
- People have insufficient money to lead a healthy life (more people in poverty are now in work than out of work) and now resort to food banks in large numbers
- There are more ignored communities with poor conditions and little reason for hope
- Allocations from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government are down by 77%
- Spending on social protection and education (vital for health) declined by 1.5% of GDP
The life expectancy in men had risen by about half a year from 79.01 in 2010-12 to 79.56 in 2016-18, while in women it rose by about a third of a year from 82.83 to 83.18 during the same period, the research revealed.
The report also found child poverty after housing costs had risen from 27% in 2010-11 to 30% in 2017-18, while among single parents who were not in work, 70% of children were in poverty.
Marmot said: “Austerity has taken a significant toll on equity and health and it is likely to continue to do so...if you ask me if that is the reason for the worsening health picture, I’d say it is highly likely that is responsible for the life expectancy flatlining, people’s health deteriorating and the widening of health inequalities.”
Dr Jennifer Dixon, chief executive of the Health Foundation, which commissioned the report, said: “We urgently need a new national health inequalities strategy, backed by investment in the factors that have the most powerful impact on health, such as early years and youth services, housing, education, social security and good quality work.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “There is still much more to do, and our bold prevention agenda, record £33.9bn a year investment in the NHS, and world-leading plans to improve children’s health will help ensure every person can lead a long and healthy life.”
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “This is a devastating verdict on 10 years of austerity under the Conservatives, and demands urgent action from Boris Johnson.
“There is no greater social injustice than people dying sooner because of poverty and austerity. Yet not only is life expectancy stalling for the first time in more than 100 years, shockingly it is actually declining for the poorest 10% of women.”
The national CEO of Groundwork, a charity working locally and nationally to transform lives in the UK’s most disadvantaged communities, described the report as “concerning”.
Graham Duxbury told HuffPost UK: “The findings of today’s report are concerning but sadly not surprising to organisations like Groundwork, working with communities that have been most impacted by service cuts over the past decade.
“We support the call for the government to set out a clear strategy to tackle health inequalities, which should include investing in the social infrastructure necessary for communities to thrive.”