A doctor with a female patient

Women in England’s poorest areas have lower life expectancy

New data highlights the extent of health inequalities in England and warns that the government’s ‘levelling up agenda’ is flawed
27 April 2022 , Kerry Taylor-Smith

Women in England’s most deprived areas are dying earlier than the average female in almost every comparable country according to a damning report by independent charity, the Health Foundation.

The report, which analysed life expectancy of women living in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, comes as the government prepares to publish a white paper on ‘health disparities’ this summer.

The UK ranked 25th of 38 by life expectancy, with an average of 83.1 years. However, further dissection revealed women in the poorest 10% of areas, including Blackpool, Liverpool and Middlesbrough, could expect to live an average of 78.7 years, almost eight years fewer than those in the wealthier 10% of areas (86.4 years).

Life expectancy for England’s poorest women is also lower than the overall figure for women in Columbia (79.8 years), Latvia (79.7 years), and Hungary (79.6 years). Only Mexico (77.9 years) ranked lower.

Figures highlight the extent of health inequalities in England, says the Health Foundation. They warn the government’s ‘levelling up agenda’, which promises to increase healthy life expectancy by five years, and reduce the gap between the healthiest and least healthy, is flawed. Ministers also promise to tackle gender equality and to ‘reset the dial’ on women’s health, but based on pre-pandemic trends this could take 192 years.

“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,” said Jo Bibby, Director of Health at The Health Foundation.

“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 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.”

Bibby says a fundamental shift in the government’s approach is required. Instead of focussing on individual responsibility, they should create social and economic conditions, including secure jobs with adequate incomes, suitable housing and high-quality education, to enable people to live healthier lives.

The rising cost of living will further exacerbate the gap between rich and poor, with families whose finances have been stretched during the pandemic facing a choice between essentials vital to healthy living, or plunging into debt.

Kate Thompson, CIEH Director, describes the gap as “shocking” and is concerned the rising cost of living will be paid for by our health.

“We're facing the biggest squeeze in living standards since the 1950s. Inflation is at its highest for 30 years: Brexit, the pandemic and conflict in Ukraine have brought increased costs,” she said. “We’re all feeling the pinch but poorer households are being hit hardest, having to make harsh choices between for example, heating or eating. Poverty and the stress of debt injures our health in the short and long term.

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


Image credit: Shutterstock

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