For the first time in over a century life expectancy has flat-lined for an entire decade , as revealed by Professor Sir Michael Marmot in a new review of English health inequalities published today (25 February 2020) by the Institute of Health Equity.

The new report is an update to the landmark Marmot Review of 2010, which was ranked recently by UK public health experts as the third most important public health achievement of the 21st century, in a poll conducted by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH). It drove a paradigm shift in the way people think about the causes of poor health, and played a huge role in establishing the political imperative for tackling inequalities.

Among the findings of the new report, Health Equity in England, The Marmot Review 10 Years On, are that over the last decade:

  • Health inequalities have widened.
  • Life expectancy has stalled, and has actually declined for the poorest 10% of women.
  • The north-south health gap has opened up further still – with the largest decreases in life expectancy seen in the most deprived parts of the North East, and the largest increases seen in the least deprived parts of London.
  • The amount of time spent in poor health has increased.

The review also counters the theory that changes in life expectancy can be explained by increasingly severe winters and flu, showing that the substantial majority of these changes have their origin in wider determinants of health.

Shirley Cramer CBE, Chief Executive of RSPH, said:

“It is a damning indictment of the past decade that, despite being among the wealthiest countries in the world, life expectancy among some groups – such as women on low incomes – has not just stalled but actually gone backwards. It is high time that we re-evaluate the bottom line for economic policy, and replace growth of GDP with a goal to improve the health and wellbeing of the public.

“At the heart of this picture of widening health inequalities is years of austerity, and a failure to fully appreciate that people’s health begins with the conditions in which they live, breathe, eat, work and play. As vital as the NHS is, the new Marmot Review is a shocking and timely reminder that our health is more than our health service.

“If the new Government wants to show it can walk the talk on ‘levelling up’ for the regions and groups that have been left behind, it must begin by paying more than mere lip service to the reality of the deep and entrenched health inequalities across the UK.

“Importantly, this report demonstrates that health inequalities are not inevitable. There is now fantastic evidence from Coventry, Manchester, and all around the country on the most effective strategies for addressing inequalities in health at a local level.”