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‘Perfect storm’ of low wages and benefit cuts fueling UK’s life expectancy gap

The growing gulf in life expectancy between Britain’s poorest citizens and those from more affluent parts of the country has been exposed in new research from Imperial College London.

The study, published in the medical journal Lancet Public Health, reveals that people living in the most deprived regions of the country die up to ten years earlier than their wealthier counterparts.

According to the study, the life expectancy between rich and poor has increased from six years in 2001 to eight years in 2016 for women, and from nine to ten years for men.

Experts cite stagnant wages and benefit cuts as being among the main causes for the growing life expectancy gap, warning that the report’s findings are a “deeply worrying indicator of the state of our nation’s health”.

The report also reveals that child mortality rates were higher among deprived communities, with the poorest children more than twice as likely to die before they reach adulthood compared to children born into well-off families.

Council housing dwarfed by London’s financial district. Photo: Oxfam.

Researchers said people from the most deprived sections of society are at a far greater risk of developing diseases like heart disease, lung and digestive cancers, and respiratory conditions – in spite of these conditions being avoidable and treatable.

Professor Majid Ezzati, senior author of the research from Imperial’s School of Public Health, said: “Falling life expectancy in the poorest communities is a deeply worrying indicator of the state of our nation’s health, and shows that we are leaving the most vulnerable out of the collective gain.

“We currently have a perfect storm of factors that can impact on health, and that are leading to poor people dying younger.

“Working income has stagnated and benefits have been cut, forcing many working families to use foodbanks.

“The price of healthy foods like fresh fruit and vegetables has increased relative to unhealthy, processed food, putting them out of the reach of the poorest.

“The funding squeeze for health and cuts to local government services since 2010 have also had a significant impact on the most deprived communities, leading to treatable diseases such as cancer being diagnosed too late, or people dying sooner from conditions like dementia.”

A Trussell Trust foodbank. Photo credit: Newfrontiers via photopin cc

Jonathan Ashworth MP, Labour’s Shadow Health and Social Care Secretary, said: “This is latest evidence of stark differences in life expectancy, which should act as an urgent wake up call for ministers ahead of the long term NHS plan.

“The shameful truth is women living in poorer areas die sooner and get sick quicker than women in more affluent areas.

“It’s why as well as ending austerity, Labour recently announced we’d target growing health inequalities and implement a specific women’s strategy in government to ensure the health and wellbeing needs of women are met.”

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