Poorer people dying increasingly younger than richer people as 'dismal' life expectancy gap grows, report finds

People from poorer neighbourhoods in England are dying increasingly younger than those in wealthier areas, a report has found.

General life expectancy has fallen by 0.2 years for men and remained the same for women since 2010-12, according to the research, at 82.8 and 78.8 for females and males respectively in 2020-22.

It had increased over the previous 10 years, from 2000-2 to 2010-12, by 2.3 and 3.1 years for females and males respectively.

But while the COVID pandemic contributed to the change in figures up until 2022, researchers from the UCL's Institute of Health Equity (IHE) said healthy life expectancy had fallen slightly for women and stalled for men in the 10 years until 2019.

Healthy life expectancy is the average number of years that a person can expect to live in "full health", by taking into account years lived in less than full health due to disease and/or injury.

Although there has been a markedly slower rate of increase in life expectancy at birth in England since 2011 than in previous decades, even this increase has varied across regions - with a widening of the north-south gap and women.

Professor Sir Michael Marmot, IHE director, said: "Put simply, Britain is a poor, sick country, getting sicker, with a few rich and healthy people; the results of a dismal failure of central government policies since 2010.

"Not only is health the foremost concern of your local constituents, communities and businesses, health is also an indicator of how well a nation is performing. Unfortunately, Britain is performing poorly."

The study, England's Widening Health Gap: Local Places Falling Behind, found women in the most deprived neighbourhoods had seen a fall in their life expectancy even before the pandemic.

And its headline findings showed there were no statistically significant decreases in inequalities in life expectancy for men or women in any of the English local authorities.

The largest increase in inequality between 2010 and 2019 was in female life expectancy in Kensington and Chelsea - where the difference between the poorest and richest neighbourhoods grew from 6.2 to 11.9 years.

This means women in the most affluent parts of the area are expected to live to an average of 90.7 years, compared to 77.2 in the poorest neighbourhoods.

Among the other local authorities with the biggest increases in inequality of life expectancy was also for women, in Stoke-on-Trent - where the difference grew from 3.8 to 8.9 years (the ages of 75.8 and 85.8).

Of English regions, the North East saw the largest growth in life expectancy inequality, with a rise of 1.9 years among women and 1.5 years among men.

The IHE said there had been statistically significant increases in life expectancy inequality in 17 local authorities in total.

Sir Michael has written to the 58 MPs whose constituencies lie wholly or partially in these local authorities, along with each area's local authority leaders, to highlight "particularly concerning health trends" in the areas.

Among them are six former or current cabinet ministers, including former prime minister Liz Truss, levelling up,
housing and communities secretary Michael Gove and former housing, communities and local government secretary Robert Jenrick.

Sir Michael added: "This is a dismal state of affairs. I'm saying to party leaders: make this the central plank of the next government - 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.

"Important as is the NHS - publicly funded and free at the point of use - 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."

The complete list of the 17 local authorities with statistically significant increases in life expectancy inequality are:

  • Amber Valley

  • Bexley

  • Cambridgeshire

  • Charnwood

  • Cornwall

  • County Durham

  • Erewash

  • Guildford

  • Kensington and Chelsea

  • Newark and Sherwood

  • Norfolk

  • Norwich

  • North Somerset

  • Northumberland

  • Rotherham

  • Stoke-on-Trent

  • Telford and Wrekin