People born in the wealthy south east have 14 more years without disability than those from Liverpool or Manchester

Further evidence of the scale of the UK’s health divide was revealed today as it emerged that those born in the richest London boroughs and affluent parts of the South East can expect to enjoy up to 14 years of additional disability-free life compared with those from the most deprived parts of England.

An average man born in Liverpool or Manchester will live for just 56 years before developing a major life-limiting condition, spending a quarter of his natural span coping with disability, figures published by the Office for National Statistics have revealed.

The findings have major implications for health policy makers who were urged to take urgent steps to end the lifespan lottery of an individual’s birthplace dictating their future longevity and wellbeing.

The authors of the analysis said it was vital that the number of years lived without a disabling health condition rises faster or at the same rate as increasing life spans.

“If this is not the case, then these additional years of life are being spent in poor health and greater dependency and will put additional strain on health and social care resources,” they concluded.

The two cities – which have both been forced into making savage cuts in their adult social care budgets - were bottom of a league table measuring issues such as reduced mobility, memory loss or poor sight among men in English council areas. Newham in east London was the third worst performing.

Women born in Derby recorded just 57.5 years disability-free, from an expected lifespan of 81.7 years.

By contrast both men and women born in Richmond-upon-Thames in south-west London had the longest period of fully active life enjoying 70.3 and 71.8 years respectively.

Martin McKee, professor of European Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and fellow of the Faculty of Public Health, said the statistics were a graphic reminder of the gulf between rich and poor and required a concerted effort by politicians to fund solutions.

He said: “There is no single cause. Rather, it is the accumulation of the effects of disadvantage and adversity all along the life course.”

“We can see the health divide already in the first years of life. Those who get off to a difficult start are less likely to succeed in education, to obtain secure, well paid employment, afford healthy diets, and to live in warm, dry, and spacious housing. They are more likely to adopt unhealthy lifestyles, often because then cannot afford to do otherwise and to suffer from mental illness.”

Prof McKee added: “Ultimately the solution lies with the politicians, in Westminster, in the Mayor of London's offices, and in town halls, to act on the advice they receive.

Despite the scale of the health problems in Liverpool and Manchester, the north east was the region where people were most likely to experience the highest proportion of life with a disability with men expected to live 16.6 years and women for more than 20.5 years with chronic conditions.

Men born in the south east by contrast could expect an additional four years of good health and women a further three years. The figures, taken for the period 2008-2010, revealed that the average disability-free life expectancy at birth in England was 63.6 years for males and 64.8 years for females.

In Wales, which was not covered by the study, the average disability free life expectancy was 59.1 for both sexes. Data from Scotland, which measures healthy life expectancy based on self-reported well-being, shows men likely to live an average of 59.5 years in a “healthy” state whilst women will experience 61.9 years.

Life expectancy has increased dramatically since the 1980s and is expected to continue to rise with further advancements in medical science. A study by Cancer Research UK published this week found that more than half of cancer sufferers were now likely to survive for 10 years or more – twice the survival rate from the 1970s.

But the growth in the effectiveness of drug therapies and declines in the morbidity of illnesses such as cancer, heart disease and stroke has meant the number of years lived with a disabling condition is increasing too.

Respondents to the study were asked whether they have health problems or disabilities they expected to last for a more than a year.

If they answered yes they were asked whether these taken singly or together would substantially limit their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

Those that answered affirmatively to both questions were classified as having a disability. The conditions also included ability to concentrate, hearing loss or poor co-ordination.

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