Poor in UK dying 10 years earlier than rich, despite years of government action

Published on Telegraph.uk, July 2, 2010. – Linked with Renegate Economist.com (on July 21).

The life expectancy gap between rich and poor people in England is widening, despite years of government and NHS action, a hard-hitting National Audit Office report reveals today.

Extensive efforts have failed to reduce the wide differential, which can still be 10 years or more depending on socio-economic background, says the public spending watchdog. While life expectancy has risen generally, it is increasing at a slower rate for England’s poorest citizens.

In Blackpool, for example, men live for an average of 73.6 years, which is 10.7 fewer than men in Kensington and Chelsea in central London, who reach 84.3 years. Similarly, women in the Lancashire town typically die at 78.8 years – 10.1 years earlier than those in the London borough, who reach an average 89.9.

The gap in life expectancy between government-designated areas of high deprivation and the national average has continued to widen, so Labour’s aim of reducing it by 10% will not be met, the NAO concludes. The failure to meet the target has cost an estimated 3,300 lives.

The report criticises the Department of Health and the NHS for making too little progress to tackle this key barometer of inequality. Although the DoH set a target in 2000 to reduce health inequalities and published a strategy in 2003, real NHS action did not begin until 2006, it says … //

… Michelle Mitchell, charity director at Age UK, said the big gap in life expectancy had to be tackled in the light of the government’s intention to increase the age at which people can draw the state pension. “With a 13-year disparity in life expectancy between different areas of the country, it’s shocking that primary care trusts are still failing to use simple and effective treatments to help tackle the problem.

“This report follows the government’s announcement last week to raise the state pension age further and faster, which will hit those with a shorter life expectancy in the poorest areas of Britain hardest,” she said. “In this context, tackling health inequalities is more urgent than ever and the government must set ambitious targets to close the yawning life expectancy divide.” (full text).

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