'Jaw-dropping' fall in life expectancy in some areas

Local authorities will not wait for central Government to act to tackle inequality following a “jaw-dropping” fall in life expectancy, the head of a new review has warned.

But it is “vitally important” they are supported with enough central funding to improve outcomes, according to Sir Michael Marmot, Professor of Epidemiology at University College London (UCL).

Prof Marmot said the Government should heed a report produced by UCL’s Institute of Health Equity (IHE) and commissioned by the Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership.

This includes a framework with recommendations to help the region “build back fairer” following the Covid-19 pandemic, which he hopes can also be applied more generally and act as a “beacon for the rest of the country”.

Prof Marmot said the Institute has been approached by local authorities all across England, and that if the Government is serious about levelling up it must pay attention to “what we’re recommending, and what local governments are asking us to do with them.”

Improvements in life expectancy in England had been slowing since 2010 prior to the pandemic, which Prof Marmot said was avoidable, and “very likely the effect of regressive socio-economic policies”.

In the 13 months up to March 2021 during the pandemic, he said Greater Manchester had a 25% increased Covid-19 mortality rate compared to England, which contributed to a larger decline in life expectancy regionally compared to the national average.

It fell by 1.6 years for men and 1.2 years for women in the North West compared to 1.3 years and 0.9 years respectively in England over 2020.

Speaking during a briefing to launch the new report, Prof Marmot said: “I’d like to think what we are doing in Greater Manchester will be very important for Greater Manchester, but will also potentially provide a blueprint for the rest of the country.

“If we are serious about levelling up, this is the way to do it. And if the Government doesn’t get active, what they’ll find is that local governments all around the country are doing it.

“The time to do it is now, the reason for doing it is to create greater equity of health and wellbeing.”

The recommendations include more support for children and young people, rebalancing spending to focus more on prevention, more local power and control, and developing equity targets to monitor progress.

Prof Marmot said it has been “really inspiring” to work with colleagues from Greater Manchester for the new review.

He said: “I didn’t get the sense that people were looking at this saying: ‘It’s too awful, there’s nothing we can do about it.’ They say: ‘We want to make Greater Manchester the best place for children to grow up and for people to flourish.’

“But they can’t do it without Government funding as well. The resources are vitally important.

“So in a way we are saying if the Government’s serious about levelling up, this is what needs to happen.

“You need to have city regions like Greater Manchester wanting to take their own destiny into their hands and create a better environment for everyone to live in, but it does need central Government funding as well.”