According to a damning analysis of life expectancy data, which MPs and leading health experts have called “shocking,” “devastating” and “unacceptable, women in the poorest parts of England are dying earlier than the average woman in almost any comparable country in the world”.
Millions of women living in England’s most deprived areas can expect to live to 78.7 years, almost eight years less than those living in England’s most affluent areas, the Health Foundation has found.
It is worse than the average life expectancy for women in every OECD country in the world except Mexico.
The Guardian’s sober analysis also shows that the average life expectancy of all women in England and Britain is lower than the global OECD average. The UK ranks 25th out of 38 OECD countries when it comes to the number of years a woman can expect to live.
Ministers have repeatedly pledged to address decades of gender inequality and pledged to “reset the scale” on women’s health as part of their agenda to improve equality.
But experts say the results show the government has a “mountain to climb”, with a “fundamental change” in policy urgently needed to enable women to enjoy longer and healthier lives.
“The government has made a commitment to address stalled life expectancy and this has been described as a key part of the agenda to improve life expectancy,” said Jo Bibby, health director at the Health Foundation.
“However, it has so far failed to recognize the mountain it must climb to bring life chances in Britain in line with those in other comparable countries.”
According to the new study, women living in the 10% most deprived parts of England have a lower life expectancy than the average woman in countries like Colombia (79.8 years), Latvia (79.7 years) and Hungary (79, 6 years). Globally, only Mexico has a lower overall life expectancy (77.9 years) than women in the poorest parts of England.
The analysis also reveals the true extent of health inequalities in England. Life expectancy for women in the poorest areas is well below the UK average of 83.1, the English average of 83.2 and the OECD average of 83.4, the analysis shows.
The most deprived areas in England include the local authority areas of Blackpool, Knowsley, Liverpool and Middlesbrough. Least disadvantaged areas include Chiltern, Hampshire, Hart and Rutland.
The difference in life expectancy between women in the richest and poorest areas is 7.7 years. Women in the 10% of the least deprived areas in England live an average of 86.4 years – higher than the overall life expectancy for women in all OECD countries except Japan, which at 87.3 years has the highest life expectancy of any OECD country having.
“When OECD countries are ranked by life expectancy, the UK ranks 25th – a somewhat disappointing performance for the world’s fifth largest economy,” Bibby said.
“However, an even more worrying picture emerges when we look at the gap between rich and poor. The stark reality … is that the poorest must expect to live shorter and less healthy lives than their richer peers.”
England is not an OECD member like the UK, but the Health Foundation has compared life expectancy for 2018 in England – as well as the UK – to other OECD countries. Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland were not examined.
The cost of living crisis is likely to further widen the gap between rich and poor, say experts. The pandemic has already hit the finances of millions of families, and rising prices will force more and more people to choose between forgoing essentials like heating and food or going into debt.
Clare Bambra, a professor of public health at Newcastle University, who was not involved in the analysis, said she had highlighted the “huge scale” of health inequalities in England, which “were likely to be exacerbated by the very real health threats posed by the insurgency cost of living”.
Hannah Davies, the director of health inequalities at the Northern Health Science Alliance, who was also not involved in the research, described the findings as “shocking”.
She added: “Inequalities between the richest and poorest in England are morally and economically unacceptable and the devastating impact they have on the poorest women is clearly demonstrated here.
“If the Government is to meet its healthy life expectancy targets, it must not ignore deprivation in the UK and must invest to help those worst affected by the cost of living crisis, through significant, funded support. “
Bibby said the government must focus on providing secure jobs, decent incomes, decent housing and quality education to improve women’s health in the poorest areas, otherwise “leveling will remain little more than a slogan”.
Anneliese Dodds, the shadow secretary of state for women and equality, said the “shocking figures” showed that women were being let down by the government.
“Everywhere you look, the Tories are failing women, whether it’s their inability to address the cost of living crisis, their broken promise to implement a women’s health strategy, or their failure to address the deep-rooted structural inequalities in health care that Black, Asian and minority ethnic women are at risk,” she added.
A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “We are committed to improving health across the country and our White Paper on Health Disparities, due later this year, will identify action to reduce the gap in health outcomes between different places People’s origins do not determine their prospects for a healthy life.
“We will release our Women’s Health Strategy later this year to tackle gender inequalities in health and ensure everyone gets the quality care they need.
“We’re also helping local authorities improve public health by increasing their grants to just over £3.4 billion this year. We are investing a further £36bn in universal health and care over the next three years to deliver comprehensive reforms that are sustainable and future-proof.”