Life Expectancy Gap Is Increasing

Article excerpt

Byline: Claire Miller

MORE needs to be done to cut the growing gap in life expectancy which has people in South Wales falling further behind other parts of the UK, experts say.

Office for National Statistics figures show that life expectancy for men at birth in the Cwm Taf Health Board area - which has one of the lowest life expectancies in Britain at just 75.3 years - grew by just 3.6 months between 2005 and 2009, the fourth smallest increase in the UK.

Life expectancy for women at birth is slightly better, increasing by 7.2 months to 79.9 over the same period, leaving the area joint 13th worst in the UK.

In comparison, those born in Westminster have seen their life expectancy rocket by three and a half years for women and four years and eight months for men over the same time.

Professor Gareth Williams, of Cardiff University, said: "Some people will say at least everyone is getting better, but if some people are getting better quicker it creates this growing inequality, which isn't a good thing for individuals or society.

"Some people will emphasise that life expectancy in poorer groups is to do with behaviour, drinking, smoking and so on, while others will say it is to do with poverty, poor housing.

"These two things need to be seen as connected. There is a very unequal picture and that's true of Wales as well as other parts of the UK."

Prof Williams said public bodies needed to work with community groups to tackle the issue.

"I think in terms of what we do about it, it does seem to be that we've done a lot of bashing people over the head, telling them they should be doing this, that and the other," he said. "That doesn't work very well. In poor parts of Merthyr, there are lots of community groups trying to improve things for their local community, we need to work with them."

South Wales is also lagging behind other parts of Wales. In the Powys health board area, life expectancy for men has risen by one year and eight months to 79.5 for men, and by one year and 11 months to 83.2 years for women.

Highlighting the four-year gap between Powys and Cwm Taf, Graeme Francis, head of policy and public affairs at Age Cymru, said: "A four-year difference on average shows that more needs to be done to address health inequalities and reflects the fact that life chances and services still differ depending on where you live.

"People must have free and fair access to services that maintain and promote their health and prolong their lives wherever they live in Wales. Preventative healthcare strategies are vital."

Nicola John, director of public health for Cwm Taf, said: "The area served by Cwm Taf Health Board has seen great economic change over many years; heavy industry has moved away and has left a legacy of under-employment. …