Reporter 455, 25 September 2000

Health gap costs 10,000 lives a year

Research into inequalities in health has found that more than 10,000 lives could be saved each year if full employment were achieved, child poverty eliminated and a modest redistribution of wealth brought the gap between Britain’s rich and poor back to the level of 20 years ago.

The study, by Leeds geographers Dr Richard Mitchell and Professor Daniel Dorling, and Dr Mary Shaw from the University of Bristol, analysed every parliamentary constituency in Britain and tested a number of different social policy scenarios.

Published this week by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, their report calculates that 2,500 deaths per year amongst those below 65 would be prevented if full employment were achieved, and some 1,400 lives would be saved per year amongst those under 15 by eradicating child poverty.

Redistribution of wealth would have the greatest effect in terms of numbers of lives saved, said Dr Mitchell.

"The growth in inequalities in health can be slowed by successful social policies," he said. "Everyone in Britain would benefit, especially in those areas that currently have the highest mortality rates."

The study, Inequalities in Life and Death, shows statistically how growing differences in wealth between the rich and poor since the 1980s have been mirrored by differences in their mortality rates.

The authors calculate that the combined effect of the improvements would avoid as many as 11,500 premature deaths in the UK as a whole. In poorer areas, the extent to which death rates among the under-65s exceeds the national average could be cut by 56 per cent.

"The impact of macro-economic policy can be directed towards people most in need, without the need for specific area-based targeting. Improvements in overall UK employment and a more redistributive tax-benefit régime will reduce health inequalities," the report says.

The potential impact of these policies would not be spread evenly across society, it notes. Men would benefit more than women, because they suffer from greater inequalities in mortality – and poorer people would also benefit more.

More More information is available as follows:
Health inequality document
Joseph Rowntree Foundation
School of Geography

Reporter 455, 25 September 2000

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