Inequalities in life expectancy: Changes over time and implications for policy

Inequalities in life expectancy assesses how the Marmot curve has changed over time and what that tells us about the success or otherwise of government policy on inequalities in health over the period 1999–2003 to 2006–10. This study brings together, for the first time at a small area level, data on a wide array of variables for 6,700 areas of England on wider determinants, lifestyles, demographics and public service variables widely thought to be significant in determining health and health inequalities.

Key findings

  • The Marmot curve for life expectancy got flatter between 1999–2003 and 2006–10, which implies that the relationship between income deprivation and life expectancy got weaker over that period.
  • Other factors, in particular employment, housing deprivation, and income deprivation among older people and some lifestyle factors such as binge drinking and fruit and vegetable consumption are the most important in explaining differences in life expectancy between areas in 2006-10.
  • Low employment, housing deprivation and smoking are among the factors that distinguish areas with persistently low life expectancy over time.
  • ‘Place’ remains important over and above these general findings and relationships.

Policy implications

  • There needs to be a much more nuanced and integrated policy response to inequalities in health. There are some early signs of this integrated approach, but beyond this, we argue for a more coherent approach to inequalities in health delivered through population health systems that more strongly integrate NHS services with other public services and approaches to public health.
  • Austerity, and, as importantly, the policy reaction to it, will have consequences for health inequalities. NHS and wider government policy needs to refocus on inequalities in health, if some of the positive findings that happened over the 2000s are not to be lost.
  • Some places and parts of the country seem to do better or worse than our general analysis predicts. How policies are translated at area and community level needs to take into account the local knowledge, history and experience that no high-level analysis can provide.
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NGO/Civil Society Document, Policy & Policy Analysis, Research
Communicable diseases, Employment, occupational health, adult education, youth employment, Governance, Health in All Policies, Economy of Wellbeing, Health Impact Assessment, sustainable development, Health systems and services, primary health care, integrated systems, prevention services, health workforce, Non-communicable diseases, alcohol, nutrition, obesity, cancer, smoking, physical activity
United Kingdom

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