North East has worst health inequality in the country in 'dismal state of affairs' says shocking life expectancy report

The North East sees the gap in health between the best and worst off more starkly than anywhere else
The North East sees the gap in health between the best and worst off more starkly than anywhere else -Credit:Newcastle Chronicle

A new report shows the North East has the biggest gap in life expectancy between our least and most deprived areas in the country - and politicians have been told to act in order to tackle widening health inequality.

This comes from research produced by Sir Michael Marmot and the Institute for Health Equity based at University College London. Sir Michael is one of the UK's leading researchers in the field, and is also patron of Tyneside charity Healthworks. The new report contrasted the worsening inequality against the cuts to national funding that local authorities have experienced since 2010.

On the back of his latest report, Sir Michael has written to MPs in areas including Northumberland and County Durham to urge them to act to improve their constituent's health wherever they can. The new report shows that both counties are among 17 local authority areas to have seen "statistically significant" increases in the life expectancy differences between the periods 2010 to 2012 and 2017 to 2019.

Sir Michael said austerity and funding cuts had "harmed health and worsened health inequalities” and that life expectancy is “stalling” which is a "tragic waste".

At a regional level, the North East has a gap in life expectancy between the most and least deprived areas of 12.2 years for men and 9.7 years for women. Those figures are the highest in England.

By comparison, the regions with the lowest inequality were all in the south and include London where the comparative gap are just 7.2 years for males and 5.1 for females. The North East has the largest increase in this inequality across the country, the IHE's report said.

“It is no surprise that local authorities are struggling to make ends meet and that people are living shorter lives than they should,” Sir Michael said.

“If you slash the services that support people then health will be harmed. Levelling up was supposed to provide badly-needed funding for the most deprived areas. But it was a derisory amount and, as a result, never going to improve health.”

He added: “This is a dismal state of affairs. I’m saying to party leaders: stop policies harming health and widening health inequalities. To MPs: if you care about the health of your constituents, you must be appalled by their deteriorating health. It’s time for action and political leadership across the board.

“Action is needed on the social determinants of health – the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age. These social conditions are the main causes of health inequalities.”

A Government spokesperson said: “As set out in our Levelling Up White Paper, we are committed to narrowing the gap in healthy life expectancy by 2030 and to increasing healthy life expectancy by five years by 2035. Our upcoming Major Conditions Strategy will help us do this, by tackling the key drivers of ill-health in England."

The Government claimed it had invested £15bn in local communities as part of its long-term "plan to level up" and said funding for local government in the 2024 to 2025 year was up 7.5% in "cash terms".