Health inequalities in Wales are significant. There are two key measures that demonstrate this – life expectancy, a measure of how long we can expect to live and healthy life expectancy, which tells us how many of those years are expected to be in good health.

The length of our lives

In Wales, life expectancy is 78.3 years for men and 82.1 years for women as of 2018-20. As it has across the UK, this has decreased in the last year, chiefly as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. This, however, is an average for the whole nation.

When we look more closely, stark differences emerge, depending where in Wales you live, and how disadvantaged or how affluent your area is.

Life expectancy varies enormously depending on how disadvantaged an area is. In Wales, this is measured through the Welsh Indices of Multiple Deprivation (WIMD). These are official measures of relative deprivation for small areas, which ranks every part of Wales into a relative measure, based upon income, employment, education, health, access to services, crime and housing.

In the most-disadvantaged ten percent of Wales, men have a life expectancy of 73.3. In the least-disadvantaged ten percent of areas of Wales, male life expectancy is 82.3 – a gap of nine years in the lengths of their lives.

For women, life expectancy in the most disadvantaged ten percent of neighbourhoods in Wales is 78.2, but for the least disadvantaged it is 85.7. This, too, is a significant gap – seven and a half years. Social and economic inequalities impact our health and greater disadvantage matches up with lower life expectancy. It is clear from a wide range of research that access to a decent income, better employment, a good education, better access to services, and quality housing makes a big difference to how long we live.

Life expectancy in Wales

The quality of our health

It makes a difference to the quality of our health, too. Healthy Life Expectancy (HLE) is an estimate of the number of years we live in good or very good general health.

For women in the most disadvantaged parts of Wales, they can expect to live 50.2 years in good health. For women in the least disadvantaged areas, this is 68.4 years – a gap of 18.2 years. This equates to an expected 28 years in poor health versus 17.3, which is a stark difference.

For Welsh men, the picture is similar. Those born in the most disadvantaged areas of Wales can expect to live 51.8 years in good health, compared with 68.6 in the least disadvantaged areas. Again, a gap of almost 17 years. This represents 21.5 years in poor health for men in the most disadvantaged parts of Wales – which contrasts with just 13.7 years in poor health for men in the least disadvantaged areas.

Given how closely this data maps to disadvantage and the indicators for income, employment, education, services, the local environment, housing and crime, it is clear that these health factors have a serious impact on the quality of our health and the lengths of our lives.

Sources

Office for National Statistics, National life tables – life expectancy in the UK: 2018 to 2020 (2021)

Statistics for Wales, Welsh government, Welsh Index of Multiple Deprivation (WIMD): A guide to analysing indicator data, 2019 onwards (2019)

Office for National Statistics, Health state life expectancies by national deprivation deciles, Wales: 2017 to 2019 (2021)