Rift between rich and poor means living 13 years longer

THE chasm between the health of Scotland's rich and poor was exposed yesterday with the release of new official statistics showing that men living in the most affluent parts of Scotland live, on average, more than 13 years longer than males in the poorest parts of the country.

Despite a succession of initiatives by Scottish administrations during the past decade to tackle health inequality, the statistics showed that males living in the most deprived 10 per cent of the country have a life expectancy that is 13.4 years shorter than those in the richest 10 per cent of the country.

That means men in the most affluent areas can expect to live to the age of 81.1, compared with 67.7 for those in the most deprived areas.

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The area with the lowest life expectancy is North Glasgow -where men can expect to live to just 69.8 years and women to 76.2 years.

In nearby East Dunbartonshire - where life expectancy was highest - men can expect to reach the age of 78., while for women there the figure is 83.1 years.

However, the figures also revealed an urban-rural divide, in which men living outwith built-up areas can expect to live almost four years longer, and women in rural areas can expect to live about two years longer than females living in large towns and cities.

The figures, from the Registrar General for Scotland, also showed that women in the most affluent areas lived longer than those in the poorest communities - although the gap was not as large as with men. Female life expectancy in the most deprived 10 per cent of the country is nine years lower than for the wealthiest 10 per cent of the country.

Women in poorest parts of Scotland can expect to live to 75.4 years of age, but that figure rises to 84.4 years of age for those in the most affluent communities.

More: the gap between rich and poor

• A tale of two suburbs: Lenzie

• A tale of two suburbs: Calton

• Average life expectancies

Registrar General for Scotland Duncan Macniven said the figures showed life expectancy "varies a great deal across Scotland".

He added: "People living in rural areas, in general, live longer than those in towns. And men in the least deprived areas of Scotland can expect to live 13.4 years more than those in the most deprived areas, while women in the least deprived areas can expect to live nine years more than those in the most."

A BMA Scotland spokesperson said that the figures came as no surprise and called for health inequality to be given a central place in the Scottish Government's decision making.

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He added "Taking action to reduce health inequalities is not confined to the health agenda, but requires action across the whole of society.Achieving co-ordinated working on the ground between health, education, social services, housing and transport policy is a challenge which requires sustained cross-departmental collaboration.

"The BMA has called on the Scottish Government to help by putting health at the heart of decision making by introducing health impact assessments for all policy and legislation to ensure that health and health inequalities are taken into account."

The Scottish Liberal Democrats' health spokesman, Ross Finnie, claimed that poverty and inequality were at the root of the problem.

He said: "This staggering difference in the expected life expectancy between the least and most deprived in Scotland is unacceptable.

"These latest figures show that the Scottish Government has some considerable work to do in tackling these woeful statistics.

"We must tackle the root causes of poverty and inequality in Scotland to ensure that in a fair Scotland, where you are born does not influence what your life expectancy will be."

Dr Mike Knapton, associate medical director of the British Heart Foundation (BHF) said: "While it is good to see the improving life expectancy of males in Scotland, it is unacceptable to see such stark inequalities dependent on where somebody lives. Much of these inequalities are due to heart disease.

"The BHF is playing its part and working with communities to tackle this, by investing 1.5 million in Dundee to address inequalities in heart health."

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The figures follow other recent figures from the Registrar General reveal that relative to the rest of the UK and Europe, Scotland's life expectancy had worsened over the past five years and was now just ahead of eastern European nations such as Slovenia and Poland.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman acknowledged there were still problems but said the administration was committed to tackling health inequality. She said: "Health in Scotland is improving but not quickly enough, and unacceptable inequalities continue to blight the lives of our most deprived communities."

She added: "The removal of health inequalities will not be achieved overnight, but we have already taken significant action to address alcohol consumption, prevent people from smoking, encourage active living and healthy eating and promote positive mental health."

She said the emphasis was now on tackling the underlying causes of inequalities, such as poverty, rather than just dealing with the consequences of ill health.

She stressed: "Nobody should be condemned to a life of ill health because of where they live or their family's background. Poor health is not inevitable and we should not accept it."