Life expectancy is 81 for women - but gap between rich and poor is widening

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The Independent Online

Life expectancy in the UK has reached a record high - but regional variations in the age at which people die are widening, indicating that government measures to reduce the gaps between the richest and poorest in society have failed to produce results.

A boy born today can expect to live for 76.6 years while the average girl will survive until the age of 81, according to figures released yesterday by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Experts have predicted that it could soon become normal for people to live to 100 or more.

The gap between the life expectancy of men and women is also narrowing.

But the variations in life expectancy at birth between the local authorities (LA) with the highest and lowest rates of survival have increased over the past decade, suggesting that social inequalities have got worse since Labour came to power.

By 2003-05, Kensington and Chelsea in London had the highest life expectancy, at 82.2 years, and Manchester remained the lowest, at 72.5 - meaning that the gap had widened to 9.7 years. The same trend is true for women. In 1993-95, the gap between the area with the highest female life expectancy (East Dorset) and the lowest (Manchester) was 6.8 years.

By 2003-05, it had increased to 8.1 years, between Kensington and Chelsea with a life expectancy of 86.2 years and Liverpool, where women could expect to survive for 78.1 years.

These figures do not include Scotland because of changes in the way that the figures are collated, but when life expectancy north of the border is included, the gaps are even more stark. Men in Glasgow City LA have the worst life expectancy at just 69.9 years, compared with a high of 82.2 years in Kensington and Chelsea. Among women the difference is 9.5 years.

For the first time, the ONS has also calculated the number of years that people in different areas of England and Wales can expect to live without a disability or a chronic illness.

Again, the statistics for disability-free life expectancy show how affluent areas of the South-east have far better health and life expectancy than those in more deprived regions of the North.

Hart in Hampshire has the best record for men, with an average life expectancy of 79.5 years, of which 68.8 will be disability-free. In comparison, men in Easington in the North-east can expect to live to just 74, and will spend 23.5 of those with some form of illness or disability.

Among the female pop ulation, those living in Elmbridge, Surrey, will live to 83 and have 70.5 years of good health, compared with women in Hackney, east London, who have a life expectancy of 80.1, of which just 58.4 years will be without a significant problem.

A separate ONS report found men from the most deprived areas are 2.8 times more likely to die between the ages of 15 and 64, and women 2.1 times.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: "Our Health Profile of England, published last month, set out a clear picture of the health of the nation, allowing us to focus on those areas of the country that still face the greatest health challenges."

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