Figures reveal huge inequalities in health and longevity across UK

ONS report shows disparities largest in England and smallest in Northern Ireland, while Scotland has the worst longevity

Women in Richmond-upon-Thames in south-west London live 15 years longer in good or very good health than women in the east London borough of Tower Hamlets, according to figures that expose huge inequalities in health and longevity across the UK.

Men in Wokingham, Berkshire, enjoy the longest healthy lives, with 14.1 more years of good or very good health than men in Manchester, who are the unhealthiest in Britain.

An Office for National Statistics report on health expectancies at birth and at age 65 finds that newborn males born between 2010 and 2012 could expect to live 78.8 years and females 82.6.

But only four-fifths of our lives are spent in good health, the report says. On average, men can expect to enjoy 63.2 years in good or very good health (80.3% of their lives) while for women the figure is 64.6 years (78.2% of their lives).

Having reached age 65, men can expect to live another 18.3 years and women 20.8 years. But only half of those retirement years will be spent in good or very good health, placing a huge burden on the NHS and pensions.

Map of UK

The overall UK figures mask big disparities between the regions and sexes, with inequalities largest in England and smallest in Northern Ireland.

Scotland emerges as the country with the worst longevity but is also where men and women enjoy the longest good health in retirement.

Across all local areas of the UK, the lowest number of years individuals can expect to live in very good or good health is 55.8 for males in Manchester and 55.9 for females in Tower Hamlets. Meanwhile, men in Wokingham can expect to live to 69.9 years in very good or good health, rising to 70 years for women in Richmond-upon-Thames.

Richmond is one of London’s most affluent boroughs, with a population of 187,000, an unemployment rate of 3%, and an average income of about £41,600. According to the 2011 census, 73.2% of the population is white British.

Tower Hamlets is an urban mix of Docklands skyscrapers and some of the poorest communities in the city. It has a population of 295,000, an unemployment rate of 8%, and a median household income of £30,805, a figure heavily skewed by highly paid workers in Canary Wharf. The local population is 31% white British and 34% Bangladeshi.

Jodie Withers, health analyst at the ONS, said: “There is large variation in how many years people can expect to live in good health across the UK. Differences in education, employment opportunities, lifestyle behaviours, social mobility and the wider local environment all have a major impact with males and females in some parts of the UK living 14.1 years and 15.0 years longer in very good or good health than others.”

Quality of life - men
Quality of life - women

The figures once again confirm how far behind the rest of the UK Scotland is on overall longevity. A male born in Scotland can expect to live to 76.5 years, two-and-a-half years less than the average English man, who can expect to live to 79.1 years.

Some of the difference is down to the mortality figures for Glasgow, where deaths from cirrhosis, drug abuse, lung cancer, murder or suicide are the highest in Britain and among the highest in Europe. Like England, the national variation is huge; residents of the Orkney Islands live 12.5 years longer than people in Glasgow.

But the ONS notes that while on average Scots live less, Scottish men who reach 65 can expect to enjoy 9.3 years in retirement in good or very good health, compared with eight years for men in Wales and 9.1 years for the UK overall. The gaps are similar for women.

Women can expect to live longer than men in every part of the UK, although there are now four districts, led by Rutland, where men live more of their lives in good health than women. The smallest gap between male and female longevity in the UK is in the Orkneys, where the difference is 0.9 years.


Patrick Collinson

The GuardianTramp

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