old person
Life expectancy in England has ground to a halt for the first time in a century, according to a landmark report.

Professor Sir Michael Marmot, a leading expert on public health, said the widening gap between the rich and poor is to blame.

His 172-page report said life expectancy in England has barely improved in the last decade - the first time in more than 100 years it has failed to significantly increase for a 10-year period.

And for those in the poorest areas it has actually declined - by almost a year for women living in the North East.

The University College London professor said the nation had 'lost a decade' and 'England is faltering,' Professor Marmot said.

Life expectancy for those in the poorest areas has actually declined – by almost a year for women living in the North East
'From the beginning of the 20th century, England experienced continuous improvements in life expectancy but from 2011 these improvements slowed dramatically.' Life expectancy in men has risen by just half a year, from 79.01 in 2010-12 to 79.56 in 2016-18. While in women it rose by about a third of a year from 82.83 to 83.18, according to the report by the Institute of Health Equity.

The University College London-led body launched in 2011, and is supported by the Department of Health and the British Medical Association. Professor Marmot said this was a dramatic slow-down compared to before 2010, when life expectancy had steadily risen for more than a century.

'Pretty much - with a few dips and bounces - life expectancy improved about one year every four years from the end of the 19th century until 2010, then it slowed down dramatically,' he said.

He calculated that only 20 per cent of the recent slow-down was due to bad flu seasons - and the rest down to deep-rooted issues.

'If health has stopped improving, that means society has stopped improving and if health inequalities continue and in fact increase, that means inequalities in society have been increasing,' Professor Marmot said.

'A similar lost decade would mean continuing worsening of health inequalities and continued flatlining of life expectancy.' He said poverty, inequality and the politics of austerity were to blame.

The difference in life expectancy between the richest and poorest 10 per cent of people has increased from 9.1 years to 9.5 years for men since 2010 and from 6.8 years to 7.7 years for women, he said.

'This damage to the nation's health need not have happened,' Professor Marmot said.

'It is shocking. The UK has been seen as a world leader in identifying and addressing health inequalities but something dramatic is happening.

'This report is concerned with England, but in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland the damage to health and wellbeing is similarly unprecedented.' He added: 'Austerity has taken a significant toll on equity and health and it is likely to continue to do so.

'If you ask me if that is the reason for the worsening health picture I'd say it is highly likely that is responsible for the life expectancy flatlining, people's health deteriorating and the widening of health inequalities.

'Poverty has a grip on our nation's health - it limits the options families have available to live a healthy life.

'Something has gone badly wrong.' Professor Marmot accepted that the Government has pledged an end to austerity - with spending increasing on the NHS, education and the police.

But he said to really end austerity ministers need to undo the damage done by a decade of cuts.

And he said the Prime Minister must take bold action if he is to keep his promise to 'level up' the North - pointing out that Conservative seats taken from Labour in December's general election have an average female life expectancy of just 60.9 years, compared to 65.0 years in seats the Tories had held previously.

Dr Jennifer Dixon, chief executive of the Health Foundation charity, which commissioned the report, said: 'To "level up" the country as the Government aims, it must take action to level up the health and wellbeing of the population.

'Having secured new support from voters in "red wall" areas, there is a real opportunity for the Government to show more leadership to narrow the health gap.

'Existing efforts are welcome but fragmented and under-powered.' Imran Hussain of the Action for Children charity said: 'This landmark report delivers a devastating judgement on a decade of crippling cuts to lifeline services like Sure Start and benefits for families fighting to keep their heads above water.

'While politicians hail the end of austerity, every day at Action for Children our frontline services tell us child poverty levels are at the worst they can remember with parents coming to us desperate for help to keep their families warm and well fed.'

Jonathan Ashworth MP, Labour's Shadow Health Secretary, said: 'There is no greater social injustice than people dying sooner because of poverty and austerity.'