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From The Socialist newspaper, 17 February 2010

New health inequality report reveals widening class divide

"IN ENGLAND, people living in the poorest neighbourhoods, will, on average, die seven years earlier than people in the richest neighbourhoods. Even more disturbing, the average difference in disability-free life expectancy is 17 years. So, people in poorer areas not only die sooner they will also spend more of their shorter lives with a disability."

John Sharpe

The report, Fair Society, Healthy Lives, was commissioned because the government has a target of reducing the gap by 10% but they are going to miss it. The gap in the rate of infant mortality, for example, will rise to 25% by 2011.

"Put simply, the higher one's social position, the better one's health is likely to be". And the gap is getting wider. For men in poor areas the gap has widened by 2% and for women by 11%.

There are regional differences but there are stark differences also even within a region. For example, men in parts of Kensington and Chelsea, the wealthiest area in London, have a life expectancy of 88. A few miles away in Tottenham Green, one of the poorest areas in London, male life expectancy is 71.

It also notes that the poor pay 38% tax on their income compared to 35% for the richest.

The government is moving towards retirement at 68. However, "more than three quarters of the population do not have a disability-free life expectancy as far as the age of 68.

"In England, the many people who are currently dying prematurely each year as a result of health inequalities would otherwise have enjoyed, in total, between 1.3 million and 2.5 million extra years of life".

Real change

Many diverse and wide-reaching proposals are developed. Good quality nurseries, apprenticeships, greater security and flexibility of employment, a "minimum income for healthy living", reducing social isolation, investing in health prevention and a whole list of others.

Socialists would warmly welcome the many and varied ideas in the report. However, its limitations are revealed: "There will be those that say that our recommendations cannot be afforded, particularly in the present economic climate... we need courage and imagination to rise to the challenge..."

And there's the rub. Even the modest target of increasing the lifetime of a poor person by three years in the next decade is unobtainable under the present system.

What the report brutally reveals is that we are living in a vicious, class divided society. Unfairness and inequalities are emphasised and underlined over and over again in facts, figures, charts and graphs but no hint as to why this is the case.

Of course, it is na´ve in the extreme to expect a well meaning scholarly review by academics to change anything fundamentally. Nevertheless, it makes you boil with rage. The bosses work us to death so that they can live longer and healthier. They get rich on our broken corpses.

To see the ideas in this review (and much more), fully implemented, capitalist society will have to be removed first.

Fair Society, Healthy Lives. The Marmot Review. An executive summary (34 pages) at www.marmot-review.org.uk

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In The Socialist 17 February 2010:

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