Life and death: a tale of inequality
The latest figures for life expectancy and healthy life expectancy show that where you live can be a matter of life and death: the more deprived your town or district, the lower your life expectancy. The data, from the Office for National Statistics, show life expectancy for men and women for England and then for local districts combined into ten “deprivation deciles”, based on how deprived they are (so the first decile is made up of the most deprived areas while the tenth is made up of the least deprived areas, and so on).
For England as a whole, male life expectancy at birth is 78.8, female is 82.6. I assume there aren’t many new-born babies reading this, and for workers thinking about planning their retirement or their pensions how long we have to live at an older date may be more useful. The data include statistics for life expectancy at 65 which currently average 18.3 for men and 20.8 for women.
The survey these figures are based on also asked people whether their health was very good, good, fairly good, bad or very bad. This means we can work out what proportion of later life is, on average, going to be good or very good in a local area, depending on how deprived it is. So first here are the results for men:
And here are the results for women:
The overwhelming, stunning, face-smacking impression is the link between deprivation and not having so many years to live and those years being more likely to be lived in ill health. There’s some other interesting points; for instance, while it’s well-known that women live about three years longer than men on average, their healthy life expectancy is only just over a year longer. But it’s equally important to remember that the ‘social gradient’ here is as noticeable for women as it is for men.
Again, we know that men don’t live as long as women. But do we know that the gap between male life expectancy at birth in all of the bottom four most deprived deciles of local areas, and that of men in the top deciles is greater than the gap between them and women in the same decile?
The big gaps between deciles 1 and 2 and 9 and 10 stand out. There’s a similar picture for life expectancy at 65.
The point I’m reaching for here is that amid all the talk of social mobility and meritocracy, it’s deprivation and inequality that damage the most fundamental life chance of all – the chance to stay being alive and able to enjoy it.