Life expectancy in the UK has stalled for the first time in a century, spurred on by yawning health inequalities under a decade of austerity.
While women have historically seen steady increases in life expectancy, women living in Britain’s poorest areas have now shockingly seen their life expectancy decline since 2011.
A landmark review by Sir Michael Marmot published on Tuesday (February 25) was a damning indictment of ten years of Tory-led cuts to public services and a low-wage economy dominated by insecurity.
“Austerity has taken a significant toll on equity and health, and it is likely to continue to do so,” said Mormot, who is director of the UCL Institute of Health Equity. “If you ask me if that is the reason 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 inequalities.
“Poverty has a grip on our nation’s health – it limits the options families have available to live a healthy life,” he added. “Government health policies that focus on individual behaviours are not effective. Something has gone badly wrong.”
The review comes ten years after Marmot published an initial report warning of health inequalities set to become worse.
Both men and women living in the UK poorest areas, many in the north of England, will live not only fewer years than their more affluent counterparts but they will also spend a greater number of years in ill-health.
Now, life expectancy for men living in the most deprived areas in the UK is just 74 years, compared with 83.4 years for men living in the wealthiest areas. Women in the poorest areas can expect to live to 78.6 years compared to their affluent counterparts whose life expectancy is 86.3 years.
There were also stark regional inequalities, with people living in the North East having the lowest life expectancy and people in London the highest.
Calling for public investment to create a fair and equal society, Marmot reiterated the same recommendations he made in his initial 2010 report. These included ensuring employment is fair and secure; that everyone can enjoy a decent standard of living; and that every child has the best possible start in life, among other objectives.
The review was unwavering in its criticism of successive Tory governments that have failed since 2010 to meet such objectives. Marmot highlighted that since 2010, there has been an increase in poor-quality, insecure work, while food security, child poverty and wealth inequalities have also all skyrocketed.
“It is not enough for the government simply to declare that austerity is over,” the review concluded. “The aim of all policies should be to level up, for everyone to enjoy the good health and wellbeing of those at the top of the social hierarchy.”
The report highlighted that the poorest areas have suffered the worst austerity cuts and called for this to be reversed immediately with an investment programme from both central and local government.
Responding to the review, Unite national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe said, “The Marmot review paints a grim picture of what a decade of austerity has done in worsening health inequalities and flat lining life expectancy. The poorest and most vulnerable have been sacrificed at the altar of tax cuts for billionaires and tax-dodging multinational businesses. It is a damning indictment of callous Tory indifference towards our NHS.”
Unite national officer for health Jackie Williams agreed.
“These depressing public health trends highlighted by the Marmot review need to be urgently reversed if the government’s so-called pledge ‘to level up’ the country is not to turn into another empty promise – a massive investment programme is urgently required to vigorously tackle the increasing chasm in health inequalities which is impacting on future life expectancy,” she said.
Doctors in Unite Chair Dr Jackie Applebee also condemned the findings of the report.
“Yet again the evidence shows that austerity is bad for your health,” she said. “It is shocking that in one of the richest countries in the world, life expectancy is decreasing. It is an indictment of this government’s policies that it is the poor and vulnerable who are disproportionately affected.”