A “Lost Decade” for Health in UK Amid Austerity, Warns Marmot Review

A “Lost Decade” for Health in UK Amid Austerity, Warns Marmot Review

Life expectancy has stalled, patients are living longer in ill health, and health inequality has increased on the back of a decade of austerity. That’s according to a devastating 172-page report following up Professor Sir Michael Marmot’s landmark review on the British health system in 2010.

Gains on life expectancy throughout the 20th century has “slowed dramatically, almost grinding to a halt” in the last decade, the report released yesterday warns. In the poorest communities outside London, life expectancy actually fell for women and some men. Meanwhile, life expectancy in the richest areas of the country rose by around 0.5 years.

Such damage to the health and well-being of UK citizens is nearly unprecedented and, with no national strategy in place to reduce health inequality, the issue has been sidelined to the point of desperation for millions of people.

“England has lost a decade,” Sir Michael warns, “if health has stopped improving, that means society has stopped improving.”

At the same time, Professor Sir Michael is clear that “the damage to the nation’s health need not have happened.” Had his recommendations for reducing health inequality been properly acknowledged ten years ago, he says, health conditions across the UK would have moved in the opposite direction. Health inequalities, Marmot predicts, would not have grown. 

Instead, “austerity has taken its toll,” contributing to rising child poverty, declines in education funding, and an increase in precarious work and zero hours contracts. The ongoing housing affordability has put families on the streets, and many are being forced to resort to food banks in lieu of healthier lives.

The UK is now home to countless “ignored communities with poor conditions and little reason for hope.” Minority ethnic population groups and people with disabilities stand even less chance of a viable, healthy future. 

The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, responded to the findings by declaring they would “renew [his] determination to level up health life expectancy across [the] country.” He has yet to announce any policy measures. 

The official spokesperson for Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “Every single person deserves to lead a long and healthy life, no matter who they are, where they live or their social circumstances.

“While life expectancy is increasing, we know that it isn’t for everyone, and so we must tackle the gaps that exist.”

For its part, the European Public Health Alliance last month called for public health to lay at the heart of the EU-UK partnership now that Brexit has formally taken place. 

“During the last four years, crucial implications of the UK’s departure have been identified in a number of areas of public health, including: health research, free movement of healthcare professionals, cross-border healthcare, availability of medicines and the role of regulatory agencies, and health policies and standards, among others,” the organisation argued.

After four years of discussion over trade deals, tariffs and divorce bills, health inequality may finally be making its way back onto Britain’s political agenda.

Joanna Eva is a London-based analyst and contributor with a range of clients in the risk consulting industry. She specializes in Asian political and economic analysis, having lived and travelled extensively in the region for close to a decade. She holds a Master of Law from the University of New South Wales and received her Bachelor of International Studies from the University of Sydney. She is proficient in English and Mandarin Chinese.

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