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Health expert urges action to tackle England’s ‘flatlining’ life expectancy

UK News | Published:

A report estimated that the cost of failing to tackle the issue would be about £82 billion a year.

“Flatlining” life expectancy and worsening health inequalities over the past 10 years have led an expert to declare a “lost” decade in England.

Professor Sir Michael Marmot said the rise in life expectancy had “slowed dramatically” since 2010, while health inequalities were widening between the most and least deprived parts of the country.

The new report, Health Equity In England: The Marmot Review 10 Years On, found 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.

Prof Marmot said this compared to life expectancy generally improving by about one year every four years for a century up until 2010.

The difference in life expectancy at birth between the least and most deprived deciles was 9.5 years for men and 7.7 years for women in 2016-18, rising from 9.1 and 6.8 respectively in 2010-12, the report added.

Life expectancy
(PA Graphics)

“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.”

He added: “England has lost a decade.

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“Pretty much – with a few dips and bounces – life expectancy improved about one year every four years from the end of the 19th century until 2010, then it slowed down dramatically.

“If health has stopped improving, that means society has stopped improving and if health inequalities continue and in fact increase, that means inequalities in society have been increasing.

“A similar lost decade would mean continuing worsening of health inequalities and continued flatlining of life expectancy.”

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

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Life expectancy
(PA Graphics)

The report also found an increase in the North-South health gap, with the largest decreases in life expectancy seen in the most deprived 10% of neighbourhoods in the North East, and the largest increases in the least deprived 10% of neighbourhoods in London.

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 said.

It also said 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.

Prof Marmot said while poverty was an issue, austerity had taken its toll on equity and health.

He added: “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 £33.9 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.”

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.”

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