Life expectancy divide widens

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The Independent Online

The life expectancy divide between Britain's more prosperous and deprived areas has widened to as much as 13 years, official figures revealed today.

Though people across the country are in general living longer, statistics show children born in the South of England have a longer life ahead of them than those brought up in Scotland and the North.

A boy from London's affluent Kensington and Chelsea can now expect to survive 13.5 years longer than his counterpart in Glasgow City.

The figures, released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), give a snapshot of life spans in every local area across Britain.

They show the average life expectancy at birth now stands at 78.2 years for men and 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 for men and 82.6 for women.

The Scottish have the lowest life expectancy, reaching the average age of 75.8 years for men and 80.4 years for women.

Charities and campaigners slammed the disparity between different parts of the country which, they claim, leaves Britons facing a life expectancy "postcode lottery".

A breakdown of different local areas revealed that boys in Kensington and Chelsea have a life span at birth of 85.1 years, while for girls this figure stands at 89.8 years. At the other end of the scale, in Glasgow City the lifespans were 71.6 years and 78 years respectively.

The gap between the two - 13.5 years - is greater than that of the previous period when it stood at 12.5 years.

The ONS report, which examined the population between 2004/06 and 2008/10, showed the divide also widened for girls - by 1.7 years.

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. She is now expected to reach 89.8 years, while a girl living in Glasgow City is only expected to reach 78 .

The ONS said the large variation between the two regions indicated that "health inequalities across the UK are increasing".

A regional examination of the figures showed London has seen the greatest overall improvement in life expectancy in recent years.

This is attributed to its relative affluence and the movement of healthy employed individuals with a low risk of death into the city.

The area with the greatest improvement for boys was Westminster, where life expectancy rose by 3.6 years. For girls, the front-runners were Hinckley and Bosworth and Limavady, where it rose by 2.9 years.

Meanwhile, male life expectancy was shown to be highest in the South East (79.7 years), East (79.6 years) and South West (79.5 years) and for females, the South East and South West (83.5 years), London (83.3 years) and the East (83.2 years) offered the most favourable life spans.

Researchers found similar geographical discrepancies among those aged 65.

For elderly women, the divide increased by more than two years - rising from a difference of 7.5 years between regions in 2004-06 to 9.7 years in the 2008-10 period. For men of the same age, the gap increased by just under two years, from 8.2 years to 10.1.

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 divide has been blamed on a string of social factors which 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.

TUC general-secretary Brendan Barber said the figures should send a "stark warning" to a Government "intent on forcing people to retire far later".

"Life expectancy in deprived areas of the UK is increasing at half the pace of the wealthiest parts of London and the South," he said.

"People living in these areas can also expect their retirement to be a decade shorter."

Shadow health minister Diane Abbott slammed the Government for "consigning parts of the country to a massive postcode lottery" and said changes to primary care trust funding would push NHS spending in England away from the poorer areas towards richer parts of the country, enhancing the divisions.

"These new figures make the recent warning by over 400 senior doctors and public health experts that the Government's Health and Social Care Bill will widen inequalities even more important," she said.

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said: "Health inequalities widened to their greatest ever under Labour, which is why we have been taking urgent action to reverse this trend.

"This includes the introduction of a ring-fenced public health budget which will ensure more resources are channelled to the most deprived areas."