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Life expectancy fails to rise for ‘first time in a century’

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Life expectancy in the most deprived areas falls Life expectancy in the most deprived areas has fallen for the first time

For the first time in more than 100 years life expectancy has failed to increase across the country, and for the poorest 10% of women it has actually declined, the Marmot 2020 review has found.

According to the report, for the poorest 10% of women, life expectancy has declined. Over the last decade health inequalities have widened overall, and the amount of time people spend in poor health has increased since 2010.

The report also confirmed an increase in the north/south health gap, where the largest decreases were seen in the most deprived 10% of neighbourhoods in the North East, and the largest increases in the least deprived 10% of neighbourhoods in London.

‘England is faltering. From the beginning of the 20th century, England experienced continuous improvements in life expectancy but from 2011 these improvements slowed dramatically, almost grinding to a halt. For part of the decade 2010-2020 life expectancy actually fell in the most deprived communities outside London for women and in some regions for men. For men and women everywhere the time spent in poor health is increasing,’ said Sir Michael Marmot, the chair of the review.

‘This is shocking. In the United Kingdom, as in other countries, we are used to life expectancy and health improving year on year. It is what we have come to expect. 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 wellbeing is similarly nearly unprecedented.’

Other findings include mortality rates are increasing for men and women aged 45-49 – perhaps related to so-called ‘deaths of despair’ (suicide, drugs and alcohol abuse) as seen in the USA. Child poverty has increased (22% compared to Europe’s lowest of 10% in Norway, Iceland and The Netherlands); children’s and youth centres have closed; funding for education is down.

‘This new review from Prof Sir Michael shows we’ve lost a decade in the fight to reduce the health inequality gap in England. It’s disheartening to see, not only has life expectancy stopped improving, it’s actually deteriorating for society’s most vulnerable because of chronic reluctance to invest properly in preventing ill health,’ said Mike Adams, RCN England Director.

Many factors outside health play a role in helping us live longer lives. In order to make impactful interventions in childhood, we need nursing expertise to be listened to and we need a lasting solution to nursing workforce shortfalls in areas like health visiting, school nursing and public health. A national strategy on the social determinants of health is the only way to reverse this worrying trend.’

The report highlights that health is not just a matter of how well the health service is funded and functions. Because health is closely linked to the circumstances in which patients are born, grow, live, work and age, large funding cuts, under the banner of austerity, have had an adverse effect. Deprived areas and areas outside London and the South East have experienced larger cuts

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