Last week Public Health England published a new report which comprehensively covers the current state of health in England today. To put the findings concisely, it turns out that to be healthy it pays to have money.
The report starts by stating the current life expectancy rates in England. For women this is 83.2 years, and for men it’s 79.6 years. Here is where the inequalities start to appear. If we look at the difference between the most and the least deprived areas, there is a 9.3 year difference for men and 7.3 years for women.
When focusing on healthy life expectancy (years lived in good health), the gap widens substantially, to 19 years. Yep, that’s right. The richest people in our country live on average almost 20 years longer than the poorest.
Maybe money can buy your health after all.
As we continue through the report we see in an ever-clearer trend that there are major inequalities in health in this country. Inequality begins at an early age, with children born in the most deprived areas being 2 times more likely to have a low birth-weight, and 3 times more likely to have tooth decay, than children born in the least deprived areas. As people get older the inequalities do not disappear. Adults in the most deprived areas find themselves twice as likely to die prematurely from cancer as those in the least deprived areas. Living in a deprived area means you are 4 times more likely to die from cardiovascular (heart or blood) disease than if you lived in one of the least deprived areas.
Many factors are at play when analysing health, including access to health care, education and employment. This report focuses primarily on one: income. It shows that income and health are strongly associated and explains that ‘financial resources determine the extent to which a person can both invest in goods and services which improve health and purchase goods and services which are bad for health’. In general people spend their wealth on services that improve their health, although the report does show that obesity is still a growing trend in England, regardless of how deprived an area somebody lives.
The Minimum Income Line is an estimate of the income needed to provide a person with a decent standard of living depending on their circumstances (whether they have a partner, children, are retired, etc). We see that nearly 30% of the population in England are living below this line. What’s scary is that for children this rate jumps up to 44%. That means almost half the children in England do not grow up in decent living conditions. For a developed country this is particularly alarming, and frankly unacceptable. For children living in single parent households the rate is a staggering 75%. With the divorce rate continuing to rise this doesn’t bode well for the future.
An interesting find in the report is that people who are working are becoming poorer. In 1994/95, 30% of the people living in poverty were children or working age adults living in a household where someone was in work. The majority was made up by unemployed people which was to be expected. In 2014/15 however, the rate was up to 57%. This shows that income levels and wage rates are not rising as quickly as inflation, and so people are earning comparatively less than they were before. If this trend continues, then more people will fall under the poverty line, where their health will be in greater danger.
The overall finding of this report is that inequalities in health are increasing and that a large portion of the blame for this can be put on income. In order to improve national health and reduce the strain on the NHS, we need to ensure that people are earning enough money to live decently. Although there are many areas to address to improve general health, addressing income levels would go a long way to starting to eradicate the problem of poor health.
About the author
Alex Baker is a researcher at WMC covering areas relating to climate change and economic development. He is an Economics Graduate currently working and travelling throughout Europe and Asia.
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