An alarming new study has revealed that the life expectancy of England's poorest women has declined since 2011, while the disparity between the life expectancies of the most affluent and the most deprived areas of society is widening. According to researchers from Imperial College London, the life expectancy of women in the poorest communities in England declined by a quarter of a year between 2011 and 2016, while women in the wealthiest areas lived almost eight years longer than women in the most deprived. What's more, many people in deprived areas were found to have died from preventable or treatable illnesses.
The study, published in Lancet Public Health, analysed 7.65 million deaths in England between the years 2001 and 2016, using data from the Office for National Statistics. The researchers found that the life expectancy for women in the most deprived tenth of England declined by 0.24 years since 2011. Moreover, the poorest tenth of women in England lived an average of 78.8 years, while the wealthiest tenth lived for 86.7 years. The disparity in life expectancy — 7.9 years in 2016 — increased from 6.1 years in 2001.
The life expectancy gap for men was even greater, though the increase between 2001 and 2016 was much less significant. In 2016, the life expectancy for the poorest men was 74 years, compared to 83.8 years for the richest men. That's a gap of 9.8 years, compared to a 9-year gap in 2001.
Senior author Professor Majid Ezzati said, "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," he added. "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 study also looked into the differing causes of death between the most affluent and most deprived areas of England, finding that while the poorest people died more frequently from all illnesses, diseases like respiratory illnesses, heart disease, dementia, lung and digestive cancers, and children's diseases were far more likely to shorten the lives of poorer people. According to the researchers, children under five living in the most deprived areas of England were 2.5 times more likely to die than children in the wealthiest areas.
"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," Professor Ezzati said.
"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." Government representatives haven't yet responded to a request for comment.
As the Guardian observes, the study comes in the wake of a report by the United Nations poverty envoy Philip Alston, who condemned the UK's "punitive, mean-spirited, and often callous" austerity policies, including the introduction of universal credit. "It is patently unjust and contrary to British values that so many people are living in poverty," Alston said, further condemning cuts to local authories and public services. A government spokesperson told the Guardian that they "completely disagreed," with the report, saying, "We are absolutely committed to helping people improve their lives while providing the right support for those who need it."
In September 2018, Public Health England observed that the life expectancy for UK women fell below the EU average, at 83 years compared to 83.6. The same month, data from the Office of National Statistics revealed that life expectancy growth in the UK has stalled.
In October, researchers from Manchester University found an increase in the north-south divide in relation to early deaths. The north of England has seen a sharp increase in deaths between the ages of 25 and 44, as a result of heart disease, alcohol misuse, drug misuse, suicide, accidents, smoking, and other factors — resulting in a significant gap between the north and south of England. "This gap might be due to exacerbation of existing social and health inequalities that have been experienced for many years," the study, published in Lancet Public Health, said.