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Gap in life expectancy growing between rich and poor

UK News | Published:

A squeeze on funding for the NHS and social care may be to blame, a report found.

The life expectancy gap between the rich and the poor is growing (Yui Mok/ PA)

The life expectancy gap between the richest and poorest communities in the UK is growing, according to a report.

A 60-year-old man living in the most advantaged fifth of neighbourhoods can expect to live five years longer than his counterparts in the most disadvantaged fifth.

This has increased from 4.1 years in 2001, research by the Longevity Science Panel found.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

Death rates have also fallen faster for the rich between 2001 and 2015 – at 32% among men aged 60 to 89 in the wealthiest fifth of society.

The rate only fell by 20% for men of the same age in the poorest fifth.

For women of the same age group, the rate fell by 29% for the wealthiest segment and 11% for the poorest.

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Women from 60 to 89 from the most deprived fifth of society are 81% more likely to die in a year than women in the richest, up from 44% in 2001.

A boy born in the most advantaged 20% of neighbourhoods in 2018 can expect to live 8.4 years longer than a boy from the poorest 20% – up from 7.2 years in 2001.

For girls the figure has risen to 5.8 years from five years.

Differences in smoking, obesity and uptake of protective health services such as screening for cancer could explain the differences, the report said, but income was the clearest indicator of life expectancy.

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The report’s authors said: “It’s mainly about money.

“Our analysis shows that income deprivation, as estimated from state benefits and largely associated with unemployment, is the strongest independent predictor of mortality rates in a neighbourhood.”

There has been a slow-down in the fall in mortality rates for all age groups since 2011, the report said, potentially linked to austerity measures imposed on the NHS and social care following the 2008 financial crisis.

The figures were based on the Index of Multiple Deprivation, which divides England into 33,000 residential areas, according to factors such as income, employment, education and training and crime.

The report said that as the population ages, the gap in life expectancy between the rich and the poor could widen further.

Dame Karen Dunnell, one of the authors, said: “Dying earlier if you are poor is the most unfair outcome of all. So we should all be concerned about the growing divergence in rich-poor life expectancy.

“To reduce the risk of further widening, we need better understanding of the precise causes, followed by co-ordinated policy initiatives across health, work, welfare, pension and housing to improve outcomes for all.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “Health inequality is a challenging and complex area, but we are committed to tackling this issue.

“Cancer survival rates are at a record high and smoking rates are at an all-time low, but we know there is still too much variation.”

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