Health inequalities gap wider than 10 years ago


The health inequality gap between rich and poor in England - and between the north and south of the country - has widened in the past ten years. This is according to a new report by Professor Sir Michael Marmot, Director of the University College London (UCL) Institute of Health Equity.

'Health Equity in England: Marmot Review 10 Years On' follows up on a report Marmot published 10 years ago about the growing gap in health inequality between rich and poor, and people living in Northern England compared to Southern England. At the time, the professor warned that growing inequalities in society would lead to worse health.

Life expectancy

His new report shows that life expectancy for men and women has stalled since 2010 - for the first time in 100 years. The largest decreases were in North-east England's most deprived areas and the biggest increases in the richest parts of London. Life expectancy for women living in the poorest 10% communities fell between 2010-2012 and 2016-18.

The more deprived an area is, the shorter the life expectancy and the more of their lives people living in these places spend in ill health compared to those in more well-off locations.

"This damage to the nations health need not have happened.  It is shocking", Professor Marmot said in an interview with The Guardian. "The UK has been seen as a world leader in identifying and addressing health inequalities but something dramatic is happening. This report is concerned with England but in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland the damage to health and well being is similarly unprecedented."

Likely causes

The causes of wider health inequalities and deteriorating health can't just be put down to very cold winters, flu or problems with NHS care, the report states.

Public funding cuts have had the most impact on the most deprived communities outside London and the South-east of England. The biggest cuts have been in some of the most deprived areas, such as Liverpool.

"Austerity has taken a significant toll on equity and health, and it is likely to continue to do so", Professor Marmot warned. "If you ask me if that is the reasons for the worsening health picture, I'd say it is highly likely that is responsible for the life expectancy flat-lining, people's health deteriorating and the widening of health equalities.

He went on to say, "Poverty has a grip on our nation's health - it limits the option families have available to live a healthy life. Government health policies that focus on individual behaviours are not effective. Something has gone badly wrong."

Call to action

The purpose of the report is to show what can be done to take action on the social  factors of health inequalities.

The report calls on the prime minster and government to 'initiate an ambitious and world-leading health inequalities strategy and lead a cabinet-level, cross-departmental committee charged with its development and implementation.' One that has clear targets and is highly visible to the public.

Goverment should:

  • Reduce child poverty to 10% - level with the lowest rates in Europe
  • 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
  • Invest more in the most deprived areas.

Government response

A spokesman for the prime minister, Boris Johnson, said. " Every single person deserves to lead a long and healthy life, no matter who they are, where they live or their social circumstances.

"The prime minister has been very clear from his very first day in office that he is committed to levelling up the whole country. While life expectancy is increasing, we know that it isn't for everyone, and so we must tackle the gaps that exist."

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Sources and references:

  1. The Marmot Review: 10 Years On report
  2. Guardian: Austerity blamed for life expectancy stalling for the first time in a century
  3. BBC News: Poorest women's life expectancy declines, finds report