Our ‘lost decade’ for health as gains in life expectancy halt

Professor Sir Michael Marmot said health is declining overall, the North/South divide is widening and people in more deprived areas are suffering most. His latest report comes 10 years after he was asked by the Government to review health inequalities. Sir Michael, who heads the UCL Institute of Health Equity in London, said: “From the beginning of the 20th century, England experienced continuous improvements in life expectancy, but from 2011 these improvements slowed dramatically, almost grinding to a halt. 

“England has lost a decade. If health has stopped improving, that means society has stopped improving.” 

The new report, Health Equity In England: The Marmot Review 10 Years On, found “the country has been moving in the wrong direction” in almost all areas highlighted in 2010. 

In the 100 years to 2010, average life expectancy rose by about one year every four years. 

But between 2010-12 and 2016-18, it rose by only six months among men, from 79.01 to 79.56 years. In women life expectancy rose by four months, from 82.83 to 83.18 years. 

In the most deprived 10 per cent of neighbourhoods, female life expectancy actually declined slightly. 

The gap between rich and poor is widening, the report said. The difference in life expectancy at birth between the least and most deprived areas was 9.5 years for men and 7.7 years for women in 2016-18, rising from 9.1 and 6.8 in 2010-12. 

Prof Marmot said poor social and economic conditions were largely to blame. He said: “Austerity has taken a significant toll on equity and health and it is likely to continue to do so.” 

The report estimated that failing to tackle these issues would cost about £82billion a year in lost taxes, higher welfare payments and increased NHS and social care costs. 

It called on the Government to reduce child poverty from an average of 20 to 10 per cent, reduce “poor quality, low-paid and insecure” work, make sure the national living wage and benefits give people the minimum needed for a healthy life, and invest more in the most deprived areas. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has repeatedly promised to unite and “level up” Britain. 

But 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.” 

Anna Dixon, chief executive of the Centre for Ageing Better, said: “In one of the richest countries in the world, it is shocking and unacceptable that inequalities in health are widening. 

“Today’s report makes it clear: for the poorest in our society, life is getting shorter.” 

Shirley Cramer, chief executive of the Royal Society of Public Health, said: “It is high time we re-evaluate the bottom line for economic policy, and replace growth of GDP with a goal to improve the health and well-being of the public.” 

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