Health inequalities

What are health inequalities? 

Health inequalities are the unjust and avoidable differences in the length of people’s lives and the quality of their health. These are caused by differences in levels of access to power, money and resources.

These differences are a social injustice. Health equity means fair opportunity to live a long, healthy life.

What are the causes of health inequalities? 

Health inequalities are driven by unequal access to the social, economic and environmental circumstances that help people live long, healthy and happy lives.

These factors, known as the social determinants of health, include our social connections and networks, our surroundings, jobs and income, local economies, housing, education and skills, and the individual and collective control we have in our lives. 

They have the biggest influence on people’s health. There is well-established evidence that demonstrates they are the most important factors in what makes us healthy, and affect our health more than behaviours, lifestyles or the health care system[1].

What do health inequalities mean for communities in Great Britain? 

Health inequalities mean that there are stark differences in life expectancy and healthy life expectancy, which have shown no sign of reducing over the past ten years [2]These differences are apparent both between people living in the most and least disadvantaged areas of Great Britain, and between different ethnicities and population groups.

Health inequalities in England and Wales mean that people living in neighbourhoods experiencing the highest levels of disadvantage will, on average, die eight years younger, and will spend 18.5 years more of their shortened lives in ill health.

In Scotland, men and women living in neighbourhoods experiencing the highest levels of disadvantage in Scotland spend, on average, nearly 23 fewer years in good health than those in the most affluent areas.

Women born in the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods in Scotland will die 10 years younger than those born in the most affluent areas and men will die 13 years younger.

There are some stark disparities across different population groups. For example,  homeless men and women live 31 years and 38 years fewer years respectively than men and women on average. People with learning disabilities also have shorter lives than the average, by 23 years among men and 27 years among women.

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted inequality between people of different ethnicities as  Black, Asian and minoritised ethnic groups had a 10-50% higher rate of death than white groups.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics also showed that people living in the most disadvantaged parts of England and Wales were twice as likely to die from COVID-19 as those in less disadvantaged areas.

Our approach to addressing health inequalities

The Trust funds projects addressing the circumstances that affect our life expectancy and quality of our health (the social determinants of health).

Neighbourhood-based projects - we support and fund resident-led projects in neighbourhoods experiencing disadvantage because they are the most affected by health inequalities.

Communities of Interest - we support and fund projects which connect groups of people with shared identities, experiences, characteristics, or common interests who face additional barriers to good health due to discrimination and further inequality.

Find out about neighbourhood based projects and communities of interest.

Read more about the social determinants of health

[1]Hood, C. M., K. P. Gennuso, G. R. Swain, and B. B. Catlin. 2016. County health rankings: Relationships between determinant factors and health outcomes. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 50(2):129-135.

[2]  Michael Marmot, Jessica Allen, Tammy Boyce, Peter Goldblatt, Joana Morrison (2020) Health equity in England: The Marmot Review 10 years On. London: Institute of Health Equity.



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