Women and children would be better off living in many other European countries, including Spain and Italy, than in the UK, according to a World Health Organisation report.
Death rates for under-fives in the UK are higher than in the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Finland and most countries in the west of Europe, while women face lower life expectancy, it said.
The review’s chairman, Professor Sir Michael Marmot, also said the high level of young people not in employment, education or training (Neets) – particularly the long-term unemployed – is a “public health time bomb”.
“Unemployment may be falling in the UK, but persistent high levels of the number of young people over 18 not in employment, education or training is storing up a public health time bomb waiting to explode,” he said.
“We are failing too many of our children, women and young people on a grand scale.
“I would say to any government that cares about the health of its population: look at the impact of their policies on the lives people are able to lead and, more importantly, at the impact on inequality.
“Health inequality, arising from social and economic inequalities, is socially unjust, unnecessary and avoidable, and it offends against the human right to health.”
Data published in August showed there were 1.09 million 16 to 24-year-olds in the UK who were Neets in the quarter to June – down by 104,000 from a year earlier. The percentage of young people classed as Neet was unchanged at 15.1 per cent, according to the Office for National Statistics.
The report – Review of Social Determinants and the Health Divide in the WHO European Region – is published by the World Health Organisation and the University College London Institute of Health Equity.
The report said the UK falls behind its closest European neighbours on key indicators such as female life expectancy, deaths of children under five and child poverty.
Female life expectancy was 83 in the UK, behind Spain (85), France (85), Italy (85), Cyprus (84) and Germany (84).
Death rates for under-fives in the UK (5.4 per 1,000 live births), which are linked to poverty, were higher than most countries in the east of Europe.
The figure was also higher than most countries in the west of the European region – for example, Iceland (2.2 per 1,000), Luxembourg (3 per 1,000) and Greece (4 per 1,000).
Children were more likely to live in poverty in the UK than many other countries in Europe, including Iceland, Cyprus and Ireland, the report went on.
In the UK, one in four children lived in poverty and just under half of those reached a good level of development at age five, compared with two-thirds of children not in poverty.