THE extent of Scotland’s health inequalities has been revealed by new figures showing that healthy life expectancy among men in the poorest areas of the country is just 47.
The latest survey has found that Scotland’s health gap is now wider than anywhere else in Europe, and that the poorest people can expect to die 20 years before the country’s wealthiest residents.
Men in the most deprived areas have a life expectancy of 68 – a year above the proposed new age of retirement, which will come into effect within the next decade.
Overall, Scotland’s life expectancy and healthy life expectancy is going up. People, on average, can now expect between two and three years more of healthy life than they did in 1999.
However, the gap between rich and poor has failed to close and is now wider than in the rest of the United Kingdom. Experts said last night that the gap remained heavily influenced by the post-industrial legacy in west central Scotland, which is home to many of the UK’s most deprived areas.
In Glasgow, enormous health inequalities continue to exist, with researchers claiming that every stop on a bus journey from affluent Jordanhill in the West End to deprived Bridgeton in the East End reduces people’s life expectancy by 1.7 years.
The figures contained in the new paper Long Term Monitoring Of Health Inequalities, published by the Scottish Government, also shows that people in the most deprived parts of the country are four times more likely to die of heart disease before the age of 74 than those in the richest, and twice as likely to die of cancer.
Dr Gerry McCarthy, head of the Public Health Observatory for Health Scotland, said: “Life expectancy overall is getting better but the inequalities in life expectancy remain very stark, and what we know is that, compared to the rest of Europe, inequalities are wider than anywhere else, outwith Eastern Europe.”
David Walsh, of the Glasgow Centre for Population Health, added: “We are talking about extending working life, but we are seeing parts of Scotland where people are not going to get much time in retirement. These figures are shocking and they continue to be shocking.”
The new figures are an update of yearly estimates of health inequalities across Scotland. New calculations make comparisons with previous years difficult to estimate, but researchers say there is little change in the enormous gaps between rich and poor.
Among men, the 10 per cent living in the most affluent parts of the country can expect to live until the age of 82, or 13.3 years more than those in the most deprived parts of the country.
Women in the wealthiest parts of the country live on average to 84.6 years, compared with just 67.1 for those in the poorest.
The gap in healthy life expectancy is even wider. Men in the richest parts of the country can expect to reach the age of 70 before experiencing any health problems, compared with just 47.4 years for those in the poorest areas. For women, the gap is similar, at 51.1 years for the poorest and 73.2 years for the wealthiest.
It means that people in the poorest areas not only die younger, but spend around a decade more of their lives in a state of poor health compared with those in the richest parts of the country.
Recent efforts to improve health have focused on high-profile schemes to curb smoking and drinking rates in Scotland. But researchers said last night that the most important factors driving the wide gap were economic. “Inequalities in income are the most obvious point for action,” said McCarthy.
“Clearly, the economic recession and welfare reform are pushing in the wrong direction,” he added. “Health policy is important, but it plays a minor part.”
McCarthy also said Scotland’s figures were heavily influenced by the social issues in west central Scotland, the country’s most heavily populated area.
“There was a study recently which looked at the ten poorest constituencies, and I think five or six were in Glasgow. So Glasgow communities will be disproportionately represented,” he said.
Public health minister Michael Matheson said: “Overall, health in Scotland is improving, but health inequalities between our more affluent and more deprived communities still exist.
“We continue to address these long-standing problems that won’t be solved overnight – we are taking significant action to cut alcohol consumption, reduce smoking rates, encourage active living, healthy eating and promote positive mental health.”