North-south divide in lifespan widens
THE life-expectancy gap that sees Scots die earlier than the English has widened, despite people living longer in general, official figures have revealed.
Although life expectancy in Scotland has increased by almost three years for men and two years for women over the past decade, it still lags behind the most affluent parts of the UK. The gap within Scotland has also increased.
The Scottish have the lowest life expectancy of the UK nations, reaching the average age of 75.8 years for men and 80.4 years for women.
Statistics released by the Office for National Statistics and the Register General for Scotland disclosed that children born in the south of England statistically have a longer life ahead of them than those brought up in Scotland or the north of England.
A boy from Kensington and Chelsea in London can now expect to live for 13.5 years longer than his counterpart brought up in the Glasgow City Council area.
The gap between the two areas had increased by a year since 2004-6, when it stood at 12.5 years.
According to the data, the divide has widened even further for girls – by 1.7 years between 2004-6 and 2008-10.
Where previously a daughter born to parents in Kensington and Chelsea could expect to live 10.1 years longer than her Glaswegian counterpart, that figure now stands at 11.8 years.
On average across the UK, life expectancy at birth has gone up – from 77 years to 78.2 years for men and from 81.3 years to 82.3 years for women. Statistically, the English have a longer future ahead of them than those living in the rest of the UK – peaking at 78.6 years for men and 82.6 years for women.
In Scotland, the area with the healthiest life expectancy was East Dunbartonshire.
Males there can expect to live for 79.4 years, nearly eight years longer than in Glasgow City (71.6 years).
Females in East Dunbartonshire can expect to live for 82.7 years, nearly five years longer than in Glasgow City (78.0 years).
The gap between East Dunbartonshire and Glasgow has increased from 7.5 years for males in 1998-2000 to 7.8 years in 2008-10.
For females, it had increased from 4.3 years to 4.7 years over the same period.
The figures underlined the strong association between deprivation and low life expectancy.Males in the 10 per cent least deprived areas of Scotland can expect to live for 81.4 years, 13.2 years longer than males in the 10 per cent most deprived areas (68.2 years).
Females in the 10 per cent least deprived areas can expect to live for 84.6 years, nearly nine years longer than those in the 10 per cent most deprived areas (75.7 years).
Life expectancy at birth was highest for males in accessible rural areas (78.3 years), where they can expect to live nearly four years longer than males from large urban areas, who have a life expectancy at birth of 74.5 years.
Female life expectancy at birth was highest in remote rural areas (82.2 years), more than two years longer than in large urban areas, where it was lowest (79.8 years).
The “postcode” lottery of life expectancy caused concern among politicians and campaigners for the elderly.
Labour health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said: “How long you live should not be determined by the postcode you are born in.
“It is a scandal that health inequality remains so stubbornly linked to income levels, poverty and deprivation.
“Poverty traps too many too early and remains too persistent to be tolerated in a country that aspires to brighter, healthier and fairer.”
Ms Baillie added: “With Scots continuing to have the lowest life expectancy in the whole of the UK, these figures should serve as a wake-up call for the SNP government to redouble its efforts to tackle poverty.”
Ros Altmann, director of the Saga Group, which caters for the over-50s, said: “It is of great concern to see a growing gap in life expectancy between north and south Britain, especially at the moment, when policy-makers seem to be assuming that longer life expectancy is a reality for all.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Health in Scotland is improving, but we must continue to take action to address the health inequalities which exist between our more affluent and more deprived communities.
“These long-standing problems cannot be addressed overnight, but we are taking, and will continue to take, significant action to address them through our efforts to reduce alcohol consumption, cut smoking rates, encourage active living and healthy eating, and promote positive mental health.
“Equally Well, the report of the ministerial task-force on health inequalities, has already shifted the emphasis of our approach from dealing with the consequences of health inequalities to tackling the underlying causes, such as poverty, employment, support for families and improving physical and social environments.
The spokesman went on: “Through our early-years framework and getting it right for every child approach, we are also placing a strong emphasis on trying to give children, particularly those who are most disadvantaged, the best possible start in life.
“This can make a real difference to their future health and life chances.”
The spokesman said: “We also gave a clear commitment in the spending review to place a much greater focus on preventing spending in the early years.
“We are starting with a £50 million early years fund because we know that every pound invested during the early years can not only save the taxpayer up to £9 later in a child’s life, but can also make a real difference to their future health and development.”
A spokesman for Glasgow City Council said addressing health inequalities was of “fundamental importance” to the local authority.
Michelle Mitchell, director at Age UK, said: “What is concerning and seems ever more widening is the gap between life expectancy for people in different areas across the UK.
“This disparity reflects the inequalities that exist, particularly in relation to people’s health, in certain areas of the country.”
The extent of the divide has been blamed on a string of social factors.
These include differing lifestyles; alcohol consumption and smoking; the proportion of people living in deprivation; the availability of local services; environmental conditions; and a person’s social class and socio-economic status.
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