Health

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:07 pm on 14th May 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Debbie Abrahams Debbie Abrahams Labour, Oldham East and Saddleworth 6:07 pm, 14th May 2019

For the first time since the 1890s, we are seeing a slowdown in health improvements, including, as we have heard, a flatlining in life expectancy. However, that varies in different parts of the country. Men’s average life expectancy in Windsor and Maidenhead is 81.6 years, while in my constituency it is 77 years. As well as the data from the Office for National Statistics, we have information from the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries that falling longevity has accelerated. Last year’s analysis cut forecast life expectancy by two months, and this year it took off another six months. Since 2015, it has fallen by 13 months for men and 14 months for women. That renders the Government’s increase in the state pension age an absolute nonsense, and is rather cruel to women born in the 1950s.

Healthy life expectancy—how long we expect to live in good health—has also declined for women, by three months between 2009 and 2011. That, too, varies across local authority areas, by 21.5 years for females and 15.8 years for males. Our children have been affected as well. As the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health reported last year, infant mortality is on the increase for the first time in 100 years. Four out of 1,000 babies will not see their first year, which is an indictment of the fifth richest country in the world. We are also seeing increases in child mortality, linked closely to the poverty that children are experiencing.

Why is this happening? It is absolutely true that the cuts in public health spending which were described so eloquently by my hon. Friend Dr Williams have played a part, but they are not the only cause of the decrease in life expectancy and other problems. We know that investment in the NHS has been far from perfect, and it should have been at least £30 billion by 2022 instead of the £20 billion that has been promised. The coalition Government have a lot to answer for with the Health and Social Care Act 2012, which championed the outsourcing of NHS contracts to the private sector among other things. There is also strong evidence that that has contributed to not only increases in inequality in access to health care but also inequality in outcomes.

There is clear evidence, as many of us predicted, of the impact of the coalition Government’s and this Government’s wider austerity programme. It has widened the inequalities of income, wealth and power and contributed particularly to the premature deaths of many of our citizens.

I welcome the launch today of Sir Angus Deaton’s inquiry to review inequalities across our country, and I hope it builds on the evidence Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson produced in their totemic publication “The Spirit Level” a decade earlier. However, we also need to explore other aspects of inequalities that have been not yet been investigated, such as the inequalities in power and the rise of nationalism.

I also hope that the inequality review analyses evidence presented at a recent event I chaired. Professor Danny Dorling referred to Office for National Statistics data published the day after the EU referendum showing that there were 52,400 more deaths than the previous year. This was the seventh largest single-year increase in deaths after cholera caused an increase in 1849. The evidence showing a correlation with austerity, as people’s long-term care needs were most affected, is compelling. We now have the 10th lowest level of public spending out of 12 developed countries, and in 2018 some 1.4 million older people had unmet care needs.

Professor David Taylor-Robinson provided evidence showing that the impact of austerity is also taking its toll on our children. His report, “Due North”, provided evidence of the north-south divide and the impact on health, including child health. We now have the worst child health in western Europe and rising child mortality, which is clearly associated with child poverty.

The Government’s first duty is to protect their citizens. For our children, our old people and our disabled people, it is clear this Government have failed and I urge them to take this more seriously.