Life expectancy sees biggest fall since World War II
In response to new figures on life expectancy, the King’s Fund and Health Foundation have warned that the pandemic has further opened up deep health inequalities.
The 2020 life expectancy data released by the ONS confirms that in 2020 life expectancy at birth in England and Wales fell by 1.2 years for males and 0.9 years for females compared with 2019. This is primarily a result of the COVID-19 pandemic which caused almost 72,000 excess deaths compared with the 2015-19 average. This is the biggest fall in life expectancy since the Second World War and among the highest in Europe for that year.
Dr. Veena Raleigh, senior fellow at The King’s Fund, commented that improvements in life expectancy had already slowed significantly in the decade before the pandemic, with deep and widening health inequalities between the richest and poorest areas.
"These inequalities have opened up further and are the widest in two decades. Gaps in life expectancy between local areas grew from 10 years in 2015-17 to 11.6 years in 2018-20 for males and from 7.8 years to 9.6 years for females," she pointed out.
"As the pandemic has continued into 2021 there have been a further 33000 excess deaths to date. The pandemic isn't over and its direct and indirect effects will claim more lives in the future. Restoring life expectancy to pre-pandemic levels will be a steep mountain to climb and will depend significantly on the future course of the pandemic and reducing the gross health inequalities that continue to curtail prematurely the lives of the poorest in our society."
David Finch, assistant director of Healthy Lives at the Health Foundation, said: "The data lays bare the impact of the pandemic on the UK’s health with average life expectancy for both men and women receding to levels they were at in 2010.
"While we would hope to see some bounce back in life expectancy as the country recovers from the pandemic, there is a risk that, without a focus on improving health, we will return to the slow progress we saw in the 2010s. The data also provides further evidence of growing differences in health between local areas with gaps between the best and worst areas expanding for both men and women.
"Speaking in Blackpool last week, the Health Secretary outlined a vision for a healthier and fairer society. But this data shows there’s a mountain to climb to deliver this in the wake of the pandemic. The pandemic recovery must be led by investment in people and communities – in health, housing, skills and education – along with a safety net to protect the most vulnerable.
"It is, therefore, concerning to see policies such as the planned cut to Universal Credit which will impact the poorest and sickest the hardest. The health secretary has acknowledged that levelling up health is fundamental to levelling up the economy but, without a realistic strategy for improving health and the investment needed, ‘levelling up’ is likely to remain little more than a slogan."