Life expectancy in Britain drops to lowest in a decade due to pandemic

New report also highlights ‘enormous’ impact of Covid-19 on mental health across nations

Kate Ng
Wednesday 10 November 2021 11:28

Life expectancy in the UK has fallen by a full year because of the high number of deaths caused by coronavirus, a new report has found.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found that life expectancy in Britain fell from 81.4 years in 2019 to 80.4 years in 2020.

In a report that compared the national healthcare systems of 30 countries, the OECD found that life expectancy dropped in 24 countries last year, with Britain’s drop of a year among the worst.

Life expectancy in Britain, Italy, Poland and Spain is now approximately around 2010 levels, said the organisation.

The largest drops in life expectancy were seen in the United States (1.6 years) and Spain (1.5 years). The average reduction across OECD countries was 0.6 years, with Covid-19 contributing to a 16 per cent increase in the expected number of deaths in 2020 and the first half of 2021.

The report, titled Health At A Glance 2021, said that the only OECD countries in which life expectancy had not fallen were Norway, Japan, Costa Rica, Denmark, Finland and Latvia.

It also highlighted the mental health impact of the pandemic, noting that anxiety and depression are now at double the levels seen pre-pandemic in most countries, especially in the UK, US and Mexico.

An estimated 20 per cent of British adults now struggle with anxiety or depression compared to 10 per cent pre-pandemic, said the report.

Covid-19 had a particularly “enormous” impact on the mental health of socially disadvantaged groups and young people, said the report, including those with less secure employment, lower educational status and lower income groups.

In the UK, people with lower education or lower income consistently reported higher levels of anxiety in the 20 weeks since March 2020.

Young people were more likely to self-report mental health issues compared to other age groups across many OECD countries, which was inconsistent with data from previous years.

According to the report, this suggests that the Covid-19 pandemic disproportionately impacted the mental wellbeing of young people.

Health and care workers were also among those hardest hit by the pandemic, with these groups reporting high rates of poor mental health, burnout, anxiety, depression and stress due to consistently high workloads.

In England, nearly half (44 per cent) of respondents to an NHS staff survey reported feeling unwell due to work-related stress over the last year, a nine per cent increase on 2019.

The OECD called for targeted investments in health systems in order to “strengthen pandemic preparedness and broader system resilience”.

It added: “The returns from such investments extend beyond the benefits of fewer lives lost. More resilient health systems are also at the core of stronger, more resilient economies and societies.”

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