Greater focus needed on health inequality

16 February 2012

New figures released to mark the second anniversary of the release of the Marmot Review, Fair Society, Healthy Lives, show that while life expectancy has improved for most of the 150 local authority areas in England that will take over responsibility for public health in April 2013, inequalities within these areas also increased

The report – commissioned from the London Health Observatory by the UCL Institute of Health Equity - warns that cuts to children's services at the same time as increasing taxes are of deep concern and could exacerbate already high levels of inequality.

Professor Sir Michael Marmot, whose work on health inequalities in has been incorporated into the government's public health reforms, said: "Cutting services has a selective impact the lower down you go in the social hierarchy.

"We see increases in child poverty and are moving from direct to indirect forms of taxation, which are regressive. I am really concerned about these things and their impact on inequalities."

And he warned that not enough was being done on the six measures that affect health – relating to employment, education, income and health, child development and environment.

While the report acknowledges life expectancy is rising it concludes that it remained linked to social standing with poorer people still dying sooner. This means that between 2007-09 and 2008-10 average life expectancy at birth in England increased by 0.3 years for both men and women, but the gap widened between the top and bottom decile in society in two-thirds of the 150 local authorities.

In Central London that translates to people having a life expectancy at birth of 84 years. But the richest in the heart of the capital are still likely to live almost 17 years longer than the poorest. This contrast is also seen in poorer parts of the country – like Middlesbrough - where average life expectancy is 76 years, 15 years longer than the town’s poorest residents.

Lower life expectancies in the UK are not just about poverty but affluence and expectation. Poorer people are at greater risk of diseases related to inadequate diets, lack of exercise, smoking, poor pay, and job insecurity.

"If you are unemployed you do not get ill because of money. It is because you get depressed, you drink, you become abusive," Marmot said.

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