Stall in life expectancy rise is ‘canary in the coalmine’, Yorkshire academic warns

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STALLING life expectancy improvements are the “canary in the coalmine” showing the impact of Government austerity, a leading Yorkshire academic has warned.

Official figures released today show the country experienced one of the biggest slowdowns in increased life expectancy between 2011 and 2016, falling to the “bottom of the league” of 20 developed countries.

The analysis, by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), showed the increase in the rate of improvement fell from 17.3 weeks per year between 2005 and 2010, to 4.2 weeks per year from 2010 to 2015. Only the United States saw a bigger fall.

It led to calls by former pensions minister Sir Steve Webb for urgent research into the “worrying trend”, while Sir Michael Marmot, director of University College London’s Institute of Health Equity, said questions needed to be asked about whether austerity and local Government funding cuts were responsible for the slow down.

Kate Pickett, Professor of Epidemiology at the University of York, said the figures were evidence of the impact of austerity.

She said: “Inequality, poverty and debt are having a huge impact on people’s levels of despair and mental health.

“The Government is preferring to say ‘we don’t think anything is going on’, rather than seeing this as the canary in the coalmine that it is. Rigorous investigation is needed - this could be the tip of the iceberg.”

The largest slowdowns were seen in life expectancy at birth and at age 65 years for both men and women. In comparison, Japan, which has previously seen low life expectancy gains, saw an acceleration of mortality improvement. Scandinavian countries such as Norway, Denmark and Finland have also seen large improvements in life expectancy.

Alan Walker, Professor of Social Policy at the Universities of Sheffield, said the contrast between the UK and other EU countries “points strongly” to the impact of the Government’s austerity programme.

“Since 2010 there have been substantial cuts in social security, health and social care spending, in relation to need, far greater then any other comparable EU country, and these are likely to be behind this sharp decline in the rise in life expectancy, which has been increasing steadily for over 100 years,” he said.

A “concerted attack” on the causes of premature death was needed, he added.

David Leese, policy analysis manager for the York-based Joseph Rowntree Foundation ,said the impact of inequality was evidenced in the region, where a child born in North Yorkshire can expect to live in good health for 10 years longer than a child born in Hull. He added: “Living in poverty can leave families facing impossible choices in terms of their housing, work, diet and health. These figures should act as a wake-up call: we need action to loosen poverty’s grip on the health of the nation.”

A CHARITY supporting older people in the region said the stall in life expectancy rises was “deeply depressing”.

Heather O’Donnell, chief executive of Age UK Leeds, said more needed to the fact that the trend came at the same time health and care services are under “such acute strain is surely more than a coincidence”.

She added: “These new statistics reinforce the case for a lot more investment in older people’s health and care services. At the very least the Government should scrap the next round of cuts due to hit local authorities from April next year, because these will simply make an already bad care situation even worse.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “These latest stats show that life expectancy is increasing and we are committed to helping people live healthier lives.

“The recent trends in life expectancy and mortality in the UK are also evident in a number of countries across Europe, North America and Australia - we want to understand these changing trends, which is why we have asked Public Health England to review this.

“As part of our long term plan for the NHS, we are increasing funding by an average 3.4 per cent per year - meaning that by 2023/24 it will receive £20.5 billion a year more than it currently does.”