Health inequalities gap continues to widen

The health inequality gap between people living in wealthy areas and those in poorer parts of the UK is continuing to widen, a new report has claimed.

The government-commissioned Scientific Reference Group of Health Inequalities study found that the inequality gap, measured by infant mortality and life expectancy rates, had increased.

The report said that the gap in life expectancy between the bottom fifth of the population and the rest of the population as a whole had increased by 2% for males and 5% for females between 1997/9 and 2001/3.

This meant that life expectancy in Britain’s wealthiest areas was now seven to eight years longer than in the country’s poorest areas.

The gap in the infant mortality rate between the poorest and the general population also increased to 19% in 2001/3, compared with 13% in 1997/9.

However, the report found that child poverty had fallen by nearly a fifth between 1998/99 and 2003/4 and the number of people living in non-decent housing had also decreased by a third since 1996.

Deaths from coronary heart disease and stroke in the under-75s also dropped, the report found.

The government has pledged to reduce the inequality gap by 2010.

Public Health Minister Caroline Flint said that the report showed “encouraging signs that the government was moving in the right direction on some of the problems associated with health inequalities.”

The report was published as the government announced plans to introduce ‘health trainers’ in some of the UK’s most disadvantaged areas.

Twelve areas, including Bradford, Bristol, Manchester and South East London, will receive the new health trainers, as well as £200,000 additional funding, in order to provide personalised plans for individuals to improve their health and prevent diseases such as cancer and coronary heart disease.

The scheme, which was announced in last year’s Public Health White Paper, will be rolled out across the whole of England in 2007.

Ms Flint said: “Many people have difficulty in changing to a healthier way of life. There is support for people, but it may be available at the wrong time of day or only accessible to people who speak and read English well and access can be unequal and erratic. Health trainers are designed to address these problems. They will give support to local people in their communities and provide information to help them develop personal health plans and carry them out. Equally, health trainers will identify barriers to individuals making healthier choices and help find solutions to get over them.”


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