After 100 years of rising life expectancy, rates have slowed dramatically in the last decade – does this mean the end of a trend?

Initially published in 2010, The Marmot Review: Fair Society, Healthy Lives, established a clear link between health and wealth, and stated that the more favoured people are, socially and economically, the greater their prospects of a longer life.

Regarded as a landmark study of health inequalities in England, it outlined the scale of the problem and set out actions required to reduce it, and prevent the gap in health inequalities from growing.

The follow-up Marmot Review 10 Years On was commissioned by the Health Foundation and once again led by Professor Sir Michael Marmot. It was set up to assess progress over a decade, but instead has found that, for the first time in a century, life expectancy in the UK is flat-lining compared with most European and other high-income countries.

The Marmot Review '10 Years On' has found that, for the first time in a century, life expectancy in the UK is flat-lining compared to most European and other high-income countries @TheMarmotReview Click To Tweet

Not only that, the report identifies that the more deprived the geographical area in the UK, the shorter the life expectancy, with life expectancy for women actually falling across the most deprived 10% of neighbourhoods nationwide between 2010-12 and 2016-18.

Regionally, the largest decreases for both men and women were seen in the most deprived parts of the North East of England, and the largest increases in the least deprived 10% of neighbourhoods in London.

The report blames austerity policies, which were first put in place by the UK’s coalition government in 2010, and the associated public funding cuts and cuts to people’s incomes for this decline in the nation’s health, and warns that unless urgent action is taken, the gap in health inequalities will continue to grow.

It proposes that more must be done to give children a better start in life and create fair opportunities for all, as well as strengthen the role and impact of ill-health prevention. It also advises that measures are taken to address the lack of affordable housing, which is being exacerbated by urbanisation, and recommends that more is done to combat climate change, which is in itself a fundamental threat to health.

But if this new life expectancy trend continues, what does this mean?

The report found that people in more deprived areas not only have shorter lives, but they spend more of their lives in ill-health than those in less deprived parts of the country. The pressures that this then puts on infrastructure in those areas is clear, as is the impact of lost taxes as a result of people’s inability to work.

The decline of the overall health of the nation, combined with our ageing population – with some areas doing so faster than others – has the potential to bring about an unprecedented healthcare crisis.

The Marmot Report was written before the full impact of Covid-19 hit the UK and further exacerbated the pressure on the NHS. As the report points out, a nation’s health is balanced by its wealth, which adds further weight to the requirement for the UK to remain strong economically at the same time as putting resources into fighting a global pandemic.

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