11,500 lives lost every year because of the health gap

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More than 11,500 deaths a year could be avoided if the Government's ambition to close the "health gap" between the rich and poor was achieved, researchers believe.

More than 11,500 deaths a year could be avoided if the Government's ambition to close the "health gap" between the rich and poor was achieved, researchers believe.

A report published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation says more than half of all deaths are "excess" or premature, including those of 1,400 children who die each year before the age of 15 because of deprivation. The study quotes the government policy that aims to eradicate child poverty by 2020.

Even a modest redistribution of income and wealth, through taxation and by enforcing the minimum wage, would greatly reduce the premature death rate among those under 65 in the country's poorest constituencies, according to the report, which is based on government statistics.

The researchers, from Leeds University and Bristol University, estimated that reversing inequalities in income and wealth to their 1983 levels would reduce the number of deaths by 7,600 a year among the under-65s. They add that a further 2,500 adult deaths could be avoided if full employment was achieved.

The research says that of the 1,407 child-poverty related deaths, five times as many were of boys as of girls. Eradicating child poverty would avoid 1,183 deaths of boys and 224 of girls. Adult men would also benefit more than women because the mortality rates are higher for men in the most deprived areas.

Dr Richard Mitchell, a senior research fellow at Leeds University and one of the report's authors, said: "The findings suggest growth in inequalities in health can be slowed by successful social policies. Everyone in Britain will benefit, with those in the poorest areas having the greatest reduction in premature death rates."

The report lists the country's poorest constituencies and the number of preventable deaths.

Residents of Ladywood, Birmingham, would benefit the most from a successful social policy, with 39 lives a year saved; Riverside in Liverpool, 34; Sparkbrook and Small Heath in Birmingham, 33; Manchester Central, 33; and Middlesbrough, 32, it says.

The constituencies least likely to benefit from a redistribution of wealth, full employment and eradicating child poverty were Cardiff North, Sheffield Hallam and the Western Isles, where only eight premature deaths a year would be avoided.

Dr Mitchell said: "Although the broad picture shows that cities such as Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow have pockets of poverty, these can also be found in London and remote parts of Cornwall, while many rural areas of northern England are relatively healthy."

Overall, the figures showed that more deaths would be avoided in the North and in urban areas across the country.

Dr Mary Shaw, from the University of Bristol, a co-author of the study, said that the research showedthe number of "lives that would be saved" by reducing the health gap was much higher than previously estimated. "The effects of poverty - and of poverty on health - are cumulative. Improving conditions for today's children will improve the life chances of successive generations. In that sense, the estimates we have made of the number of lives that could be saved are conservative."

Ladywood, an inner-city area, covers rich districts containing some of the city's fashionable bars and clubs, as well as run-down tower blocks and housing estates. At one end lies Sherbourne Lofts, where there are £500,000 properties (the footballer Stan Collymore lives in one of them). At the other are the housing estates of Clayton House, Kenchester and Blakemere, where the number of seriously deprived residents is far higher than in the typical constituency.

A little more than onequarter of the households in this area, or 2,670, are home to at least one person suffering from a long-term illness. One in ten is a lone parent household and 17 per cent of the constituents are not working, the figures show.

Jonathan Beale, who is 34 and unemployed, has lived on the Balf House estate for most of his life. "This is the worst area in Birmingham to live in, and it has got worse over the years. There is definitely some very poor people living in run-down areas," he said.

"If a lot of children die it is because of neglect. A lot of the parents work as prostitutes and don't look after their children at all. They are completely left to themselves, and then get picked on and drawn into crime. This area needs a lot of help."

Steve Webb, the Liberal Democrat spokesman for social security, said that the Government was not on target to eradicate child poverty. "This follows the findings of a House of Commons report that showed child poverty has not decreased in the two years since Labour came to power.

"The Government has a target of eradicating child poverty in 20 years. That's a whole generation away. For those parents not in work, levels of benefit are completely inadequate, but this isn't on the Government's agenda," he said.

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