life expectancy

There is a gap of nearly two decades of time spent in good health between the most and least deprived parts of England.

New official figures show that healthy life expectancy at birth was 52.3 years in the most deprived parts of the country compared to 70.7 years for people living in the least deprived areas.

The data, which is for 2017 to 2019, show an 18.4 year gap between the time spent in “good” general health in different parts of the country, depending on wealth.

For women living in the most deprived areas in England, the gap widens to 19.8 years, with those in deprived areas expected to live 51.4 years in good health, compared to 71.2 years in the least deprived areas.

These latest figures mean that women living in the most deprived tenth of the population can expect to live in poor health for more than a third of their lives.

Commenting on the figures, Dr Sarah Scobie, deputy director of research at the Nuffield Trust, said:

“Today’s data from the ONS provide a stark reminder that the concerning health inequalities put under the spotlight by the Covid-19 pandemic are nothing new.

“Women in the most deprived tenth of the population can expect to live in poor health for more than a third of their life, with those women experiencing almost two decades less of good health than the richest tenth.

“As well as being shocking in itself, this fact poses real problems in ensuring that health services are equitable.

“Our own research, which also pre-dated the pandemic, found stark differences in A&E waiting times and experience of GP services between the most and least deprived people.

“As the NHS faces the enormous task of rebuilding services after the pandemic, it will be vital to ensure that these concerning trends do not translate into yet more entrenched disparities in the quality of healthcare.”

According to the ONS, healthy life expectancy is an estimate of how much of our lives we spend in “very good” or “good” health. It is based on individual perception of general health.

Despite the big gaps in healthy life expectancy in different parts of the country, the ONS said there were “significant improvements” in male and female life expectancy at birth for this latest period, compared with the last data set from 2014 to 2016.

For women living in the least deprived parts of the country, there was what the ONS referred to as a “statistically significant” improvement in life expectancy of 11 weeks. For men in the least deprived areas, life expectancy improved by 12.5 weeks, on average.

Only in the most deprived tenth of the population was there no significant change in life expectancy at birth, in this latest data. However, women living in the most deprived areas experienced a 4.2 week decline in life expectancy at birth.

Jack Jones, pensions officer at the TUC, said:

“Everybody should be able to look forward to a decent retirement. But the gap in healthy life expectancy between rich and poorer areas remains huge, and in the case of women is widening.

“The government must rethink its plans to raise the state pension age. This risks making inequalities worse and pushing more people into poverty. It makes no sense to make people, who are forced out of the labour due to ill health, to wait longer for their pension.”

In research published last month, the TUC found that more than half a million workers aged 60 to 65 were forced to leave the workplace early due to poor health.