England’s health inequality sees the most deprived facing 19 more years of ill health over a lifetime, according to a new report by Public Health England (PHE).
The Health Profile for England survey uses previously published data and PHE analysis to summarise the health of people in England and inform public policy.
The second annual report, released today, states that the poorest in society are more likely to spend almost a third of their lives being unwell, with higher death rates for heart disease, chronic respiratory disease, and cancer — partly as a result of smoking and obesity. Comparatively, the most well-off can expect to be in ill-health for only a sixth of their lives.
The life expectancy gap between the poorest and the richest is 9.3 years for men and 7.3 years for women.
The report says there is “no evidence that inequalities in life expectancy have narrowed in recent years.”
‘A Burning Injustice’
Theresa May addressed the issue of health inequality in her first speech as PM. Image Credit: Arno Mikkor/Flickr
The health gap is “avoidable and unfair” according to the survey, which claims the situation is driven by social and economic inequalities.
Professor John Newton, director of health improvement at PHE, said: “These inequalities are most striking for children and have quite long-term causes. A poor start can lead to poor health throughout your life.”
“Improving education, housing, welfare and making sure people have stake in the community in which they live can all contribute to improving outcomes and reducing inequalities.”
The right to health is internationally recognised as a fundamental human right.
In her first speech as prime minister, Theresa May described health inequality as “a burning injustice,” with austerity policies introduced by the 2010 coalition government having been blamed for increasing general inequality.
In 1946, the World Health Organisation stated in its constitution that “the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition.”
This right was also included in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).
The UK is a signatory to the ICESCR and so is bound to protect the right to health, subject to ‘progressive realisation’. This means that steps must be taken towards achieving this right, although it’s recognised this may only be achievable over a period of time if the state is hampered by limited resources.
However, it would be difficult for a wealthy country like the UK to argue that it is unable to provide basic healthcare to its citizens.
Challenges For the Future
Elsewhere, the PHE report paints a picture of a growing and ageing population that will pose new challenges to the country’s health.
Life expectancy was 79.6 for men and 83.2 for women in 2017, but there is evidence the rate of increase in life-expectancy is stalling. What the future holds for the nation’s health, remains to be seen.