Health Inequality, News

Life expectancy significantly below average for women in England’s poorest areas

women low life expectancy

Life expectancy for women living in the poorest 10 per cent of areas in England is lower than overall life expectancy in any OECD country except Mexico, reveals analysis by the Health Foundation.

The analysis shows that women living in the poorest 10 per cent of areas in England have an average life expectancy of 78.7 years. This is considerably below the average of 83.2 years for the whole of England and less than the overall life expectancy for women in countries including Colombia (79.8 years), Latvia (79.7 years) and Hungary (79.6 years). In Mexico, which has the lowest life expectancy at birth of any Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) country, women live on average 77.9 years.

Women living in the richest 10 per cent of areas in England have an average life expectancy of 86.4 years. This is higher than overall life expectancy for women in any OECD country, aside from Japan which has the highest female life expectancy for all OECD countries at 87.3 years.

These figures demonstrate the harsh reality of health inequalities in England, where those in the poorest areas can expect to live significantly shorter and less healthy lives in contrast with the richest areas.

The government white paper on ‘health disparities’ is currently expected in early summer, following a pledge in February to increase ‘healthy life expectancy’ by five years and reduce the gap between the healthiest and least healthy local authorities.

The Health Foundation warns that the government’s strategy for improving health has so far failed to ‘grasp the scale of the challenge’ and that based on pre-pandemic levels, it will take almost two centuries to achieve that increase.

The rising cost of living is a compounding factor which may further widen health inequalities. The Health Foundation notes that the pandemic has taken a toll on the finances of many poorer families. Rising prices will mean that increasing numbers will be forced to choose between going without essentials which are important for living a healthy life.

Jo Bibby, Director of Health at the Health Foundation, said: “The stark reality in the UK is that the poorest can expect to live shorter and less healthy lives than their richer counterparts.

“The government has committed to addressing stalling life expectancy and this has been described as a core part of the levelling up agenda. However, the government has so far failed to acknowledge the mountain it needs to climb to bring life chances in the UK in line with other comparable countries. Investing in people’s health is an investment in the economy.

“For many people, poor health is a significant barrier to work and training. The economic impact of lost output and health costs associated with poor health adds up – these are estimated to cost the UK economy around £100bn a year.

“If we are to see progress, there needs to be a fundamental shift in the government’s approach, from a focus on people’s individual responsibility and choices towards actively creating the social and economic conditions that enable them to live healthier lives. This means providing secure jobs, adequate incomes, decent housing and high-quality education.

“To achieve this, improving health should be made an explicit objective of every major policy decision. Otherwise, the gap between rich and poor will further widen and ‘levelling up’ will remain little more than a slogan.”