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News | Published February 25 2020

Stalling of life expectancy linked to austerity, review finds

Life expectancy has stalled for the first time in more than a century and has even reduced for the most deprived women in England.

According to a landmark review, led by Sir Michael Marmot, health inequalities have grown over the last decade, something Marmot links to austerity and government cuts.

The report found that among women in the poorest 10 per cent of areas in England, life expectancy fell between 2010-12 and 2016-18. 

Beyond this, those who live in poorer areas are ill for more of their lives than their affluent counterparts and the amount of time people spend in poor health has risen across England since 2010.

According to the report, which was released by the Institute of Health Equity, life expectancy has worsened in many areas of the north-east. 

This formed part of a wider picture, with the largest decreases taking place in the most deprived 10 per cent of areas and the largest increases occurring in the least deprived 10 per cent in London.

Launching the report, Dr 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 flat-lining, people’s health deteriorating and the widening of health inequalities.

“Poverty has a grip on our nation’s health – it limits the options families have available to live a healthy life. Government health policies that focus on individual behaviours are not effective. Something has gone badly wrong.”

“Poverty has a grip on our nation’s health – it limits the options families have available to live a healthy life. 

According to the Institute for Health Equity, healthy lives depend on early child development, education, employment and working conditions. Poverty, especially in early life, and a dearth of public service spending, can therefore be linked to poor health in later life.

According to OECD figures, the UK has a higher proportion of children living in poverty, 17.5 per cent, than Poland, Ireland, Germany and the OECD average, which stands at 13.1 per cent. This has been driven by an increase in child poverty across the country.

This wider trend, however, affects each age demographic, not just the elderly and the young. 

According to the report, mortality rates are increasing for men and women aged between 45 and 49, something the report says may be linked to the so-called “deaths of despair”, caused by suicide, drugs and alcohol abuse.

This wider trend, however, affects each age demographic, not just the elderly and the young. 

In order to address these issues, the report made a number of recommendations.

Alongside recommending the development of a national strategy for reducing health inequalities, it called for early intervention in children’s lives, a reduction in low-paid and insecure work and increased investment in more deprived areas.

Since 2009-10, public spending as a percentage of GDP has fallen from 42 per cent to 35 per cent, with the most deprived local authorities often seeing the greatest reductions.

Writing in the foreword to the report, Marmot wrote: “From rising child poverty and the closure of children’s centres, to declines in education funding, an increase in precarious work and zero hours contracts, to a housing affordability crisis and a rise in homelessness, to people with insufficient money to lead a healthy life and resorting to food banks in large numbers, to ignored communities with poor conditions and little reason for hope … Austerity will cast a long shadow over the lives of the children born and growing up under its effects.”

Austerity will cast a long shadow over the lives of the children born and growing up under its effects.”

Responding to the report, Matt Hancock, the health secretary, thanked Sir Michael Marmot for his work and said: “His findings show just how important this agenda is, and renew my determination to level up health life expectancy across our country. After all, levelling up health is the most important levelling up of all.

“There is still much more to do, and our bold prevention agenda, record £33.9 billion 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.”


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Authored by

George Salmon
Political Editor
@theparlreview
February 25 2020

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