The London Economic Politics

Poorest ‘can no longer expect to live longer as life expectancy gap between rich and poor widens’

The poor can no longer expect to live longer as the gap in life expectancy between rich and poor continue to widen, a new study claimed.

Stagnant wages, austerity, reliance on food banks, poor diets and health inequalities are to blame for England’s poorest dying nearly ten years younger than the rich.

And survival from particular diseases depends on your class.

The under fives in the poorest homes are 2.5 times more likely to die children as children from the richest families.

Diseases that led to particularly early grave among the poor compared to the rich were newborn deaths and children’s diseases, respiratory diseases, heart disease, lung and digestive cancers, and dementias.

Senior author Professor Majid Ezzati at Imperial College London’s School of Public Health explained: “Life expectancy inequality between affluent and deprived
communities has increased steadily in England since the 1980s

“Health inequalities can be tackled through progressive economic and social policies; public health interventions that reduce inequalities in environmental, nutritional, and behavioural risks; and preventive and life-saving treatments to delay the onset of disease or death in disadvantaged groups.

“Some of these options, such as cancer screening, affect specific diseases.

“Others, such as policies that reduce poverty and social inequalities and investments in health and social care, influence the occurrence and outcomes of many diseases.

“Information on the contribution of deaths from different diseases and injuries, and at different ages, to life expectancy inequalities is needed to envision how each intervention and policy option affects not only aggregate health outcomes but also health inequalities

“Our aim was to investigate how much deaths from different diseases and injuries and at different ages have contributed to this rise to inform policies that aim to reduce health inequalities.”

So the study analysed Office for National Statistics data on all deaths recorded in England between 2001 and 2016 – 7.65 million deaths in total.

From 2011 to 2016 the life expectancy gap between the richest and poorest women increased from 6.1 years in 2001 to 7.9 years in 2016.

Life expectancy for women in the most deprived communities in 2016 was 78.8 years, compared to 86.7 years in the most affluent group.

And for men the gap between the rich and poor men increased from 9 to 9.7 years so by 2016 – 74 years among the poorest, compared to 83.8 years among the richest.

But in a “deeply worrying” trend the life expectancy of England’s poorest women has fallen since 2011 dropping by 0.24 years.

Prof Ezzati said: “Recent trends in life expectancy in England have not only resulted in widened inequalities but the most deprived communities are now seeing no life expectancy gain.

“These inequalities are driven by a diverse group of diseases that can be effectively prevented and treated.

“Falling life expectancy in the poorest communities is a deeply worrying indicator of the state of our nation’s health, and shows that we are leaving the most vulnerable out of the collective gain.

“We currently have a perfect storm of factors that can impact on health, and that are leading to poor people dying younger.

“Working income has stagnated and benefits have been cut, forcing many working families to use foodbanks.

“The price of healthy foods like fresh fruit and vegetables has increased relative to unhealthy, processed food, putting them out of the reach of the poorest.

“The funding squeeze for health and cuts to local government services since 2010 have also had a significant impact on the most deprived communities, leading to treatable diseases such as cancer being diagnosed too late, or people dying sooner from conditions like dementia.”

Prof Ezzati added: “Greater investment in health and social care in the most deprived areas will help reverse the worrying trends seen in our work.

“We also need government and industry action to eradicate food insecurity and make healthy food choices more affordable, so that the quality of a family’s diet isn’t dictated by their income.”

The study was published in the journal Lancet Public Health.


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