The gap between the life expectancy of the rich and poor has widened despite efforts to close it, an official Government watchdog concluded yesterday.

A National Audit Office (NAO) report found that while life expectancy had gone up across the country, the difference between the 70 most-deprived areas in England and more-affluent parts of the country was now greater.

The figures come despite a Labour target set in 2000 to reduce the difference in life expectancy between the poorest and richest by 10 per cent by 2010. This target is not expected to be met.

In 1995-97, men in poorer areas were expected to live 72.7 years, compared with 74.6 years in the rest of England.

By 2006-08 the life expectancy of men in these areas had risen to 75.8, but the average for men in the rest of the country had gone up to 77.9 years.

Women in poorer areas could expect to live to 78.3 in 1995-97, compared with 79.7 in the rest of the country. But by 2006-08, poorer women would live to 80.4 while their more affluent counterparts would, on average, live to 82.

Blackpool had the lowest expectancy in 2006-08, with men living an average of 73.6 years, 10.7 years fewer than counterparts in wealthy Kensington and Chelsea. Women in Blackpool now live an average of 78.8 years, 10.1 years fewer than those in the central London borough.

The NAO said that since 1995-97, the gap between life expectancy of men in the poorest areas and the rest of England had increased to 7 per cent by 2006-08. The gap for women was 14 per cent wider at the end of the same period.

The Department for Health had recommended three ways to cut the gap; prescribing more drugs to control blood pressure and cholesterol and help people quit smoking. But there were considerable delays in implementing the measures, which have not yet been used on a large-enough scale, the NAO concluded.