Health Inequalities Increase, As Experts Warn Over Health Plans

Two years after the Marmot Review Fair Society, Healthy Lives was released, new data revealed yesterday illustrates that health inequality between the poor and the rich are continuing to grow, although there has been an improvement in average life expectancy.

According to figures from the Institute of Health Equity (formerly the Marmot Review Team) at University College London, life expectancy was up 0.3 years on average in England between 2007-9 and 2008-10.  However, inequalities increased in the majority of areas amongst 150 local authorities (104 for men and 92 for women).

Marmot’s 2010 report came as a surprise as it exposed that health inequalities in England are costing the economy billions of pounds: generating lost taxes and higher welfare pay-outs of between £20 billion and £32 billion a year, and extra yearly costs to the National Health Service (NHS) of over £5.5 billion.

Total life expectancy at birth in England is now 78.6 years in men and 82.6 years for women, but the figures between locations and poor and rich vary greatly.

Life expectancy is highest in Kensington and Chelsea at 85.1 years and lowest in Blackpool at 73.6 years, while the richest men who live in Westminster can expect to live approximately 17 years longer than their poorer equivalents.

“Life expectancy continues to increase for most people, but inequalities in life expectancy persist between communities with different levels of deprivation,” said the Institute’s director Sir Michael Marmot. “The task therefore remains to improve the health for the majority of the population if we are to level the social gradient – this must be the focus for the Coalition Government if they are to reduce health inequalities,” he stressed.

Future Health Premium Plans

One way the UK government is planning to tackle the issue is to pay out £2.2 billion directly to health authorities, which they can then use to help their local communities stay as healthy as possible and to reduce health inequalities.

In addition, an upcoming health premium will be paid to reward communities for improvements in health outcomes and inequality. However, in November, MPs cautioned that targeting resources away from areas with the greatest need will ‘undermine their ability to intervene effectively and further widen health inequalities.’

“Every area of the country is different, so councils will be able to decide what the most important public health concern is for them and spend the money appropriately,” Andrew Lansley, the UK’s health secretary commented when explaining the health plans earlier this year.

Speaking at the launch of the figures on Tuesday, Professor Sir Michael Marmot, the lead author of the 2010 review, warned the Department of Health not to ‘punish’ poorer areas for failing to reduce inequalities. “A lack of improvement that is due to multiple deprivations shouldn’t be punished. We should work harder to get that improvement,” he said.

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