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Life expectancy of poorest women in England falls as experts warn of growing health inequalities

Life expectancy has stalled in the past decade. Credit: PA

The life expectancy of the poorest women in England has fallen in the past decade as the health gap widened between the most and least deprived parts of the country, a study has found.

It also found that for the first time in 100 years, life expectancy had flatlined.

The difference in life expectancy at birth between the least and most deprived 10 percents was 9.5 years for men and 7.7 years for women in 2016-18, rising from 9.1 and 6.8 respectively in 2010-12, the Health Equity In England: The Marmot Review 10 Years On report found.

The report blamed austerity for a drop in the average life expectancy of women in the most deprived decile, which fell by 0.3 years between 2010-12 to 2016-18. In contrast, those in the top six decile experienced increases of around 0.5 years.

The report also found an increase in the North-South health gap Credit: PA

The report also found an increase in the North-South health gap, with the largest decreases in life expectancy 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.

Overall life expectancy in England slowed; in men it rose by about half a year from 79.01 in 2010-12 to 79.56 in 2016-18, while in women it increased by about a third of a year from 82.83 to 83.18 during the same period.

Professor Sir Michael Marmot, who led the study, said the rise in life expectancy, which had generally improved by about one year every four years for a century up until 2010, had “slowed dramatically” in the past decade.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock admitted "there is still much more to do" while Labour described it as a "devastating verdict on 10 years of austerity under the Conservatives".

The report estimated the cost of failing to tackle these issues would be about £82 billion a year in lost taxes, higher welfare payments and increased NHS and social care costs.

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Prof Marmot said: “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.”

He added: “England has lost a decade.

“Pretty much – with a few dips and bounces – life expectancy improved about one year every four years from the end of the 19th century until 2010, then it slowed down dramatically.

“If health has stopped improving, that means society has stopped improving and if health inequalities continue and in fact increase, that means inequalities in society have been increasing.

“A similar lost decade would mean continuing worsening of health inequalities and continued flatlining of life expectancy.”

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It urged the Government to reduce child poverty to 10%, 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, and invest more in the most deprived areas.

Prof Marmot said while poverty was an issue, austerity had taken its toll on equity and health.

He added: “Austerity has taken a significant toll on equity and health and it is likely to continue to do so … 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 flatlining, people’s health deteriorating and the widening of health inequalities.”

Dr Jennifer Dixon, chief executive of the Health Foundation, which commissioned the report, said: “We urgently need a new national health inequalities strategy, backed by investment in the factors that have the most powerful impact on health, such as early years and youth services, housing, education, social security and good quality work.”

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “There is still much more to do, and our bold prevention agenda, record £33.9 billion a year investment in the NHS, and world-leading plans to improve children’s health will help ensure every person can lead a long and healthy life.”

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “This is a devastating verdict on 10 years of austerity under the Conservatives, and demands urgent action from Boris Johnson.

“There is no greater social injustice than people dying sooner because of poverty and austerity. Yet not only is life expectancy stalling for the first time in more than 100 years, shockingly it is actually declining for the poorest 10% of women.”