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Life expectancy falling in parts of England before pandemic – study

By October 13th, 2021COVID

An elderly couple walking through Regent's Park on a warm, sunny afternoon on May 09, 2020 in London, United Kingdom.

Image source, Getty Images

Many areas in the north of England have seen life expectancy fall within the last decade, a new study suggests.

Differences across England have now become stark, say researchers – such as a 27-year gap in life expectancy for a man living in Kensington and Chelsea, compared to Blackpool.

Although Covid caused life expectancy to drop, this research suggests it was already in decline in many areas.

Researchers described the trend as “alarming”.

“There has always been an impression in the UK that everyone’s health is improving, even if not at the same pace,” said Prof Majid Ezzati from Imperial College London which carried out the study.

“These data show that longevity has been getting worse for years in large parts of England.”

The study, which has been published in The Lancet journal, analysed all deaths in England between 2002 and 2019. It then worked out the life expectancy for different communities, based on the death records in those places.

It found that while life expectancy rose in most places during the first decade of the millennium, from 2010 it began to decline in some places.

Areas in London and the home counties still continued on the path of living longer – but life expectancy fell in some urban parts of Leeds, Newcastle, Manchester, Liverpool and Blackpool where life expectancy was below 70 for men and 75 for women.

By 2019, the researchers say there was a 20-year gap in life expectancy between a woman living in Camden (95.4 years) versus a woman living in one area of Leeds (74.7 years).

And for men, there was a 27-year gap in life expectancy between areas in Kensington and Chelsea (95.3 years) and parts of Blackpool (68.3 years)

Average life expectancy in the UK is 79 years for men and just below 83 years for women, according to estimates from the Office for National Statistics.

“Declines in life expectancy used to be rare in wealthy countries like the UK, and happened when there were major adversities like wars and pandemics,” said Prof Ezzati.

“For such declines to be seen in ‘normal times’ before the pandemic is alarming,” he said – and he called for action to be taken.

The researchers say the differences are down to poverty, insecure employment as well as reductions in welfare support and healthcare.

They are calling on the government to increase investments in public health in areas with lower life expectancy.

The government has previously pledged to tackle regional inequalities in health as part of its “levelling-up” agenda.

In a speech earlier this year, Boris Johnson addressed the differences in life expectancy, and called it an “an outrage”.

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