Thursday, 9 August 2018

Britain is no country for old men looking to live longer and longer lives

Britain experienced steady increases in life expectancy at birth throughout the 20th century. This was attributed to improvements in treating infectious diseases, health improvements in the population as it aged, advances in medical care such as heart disease treatments and behavioural changes such as a reduction in the rate of smoking in the population.

Now, however, official figures, released by the Office of National Statistics, show that Britain has experienced one of the largest slowdowns in life expectancy growth among 20 of the world’s leading economies. In the decades up to 2011 old men and women in Britain were living longer and longer, but in the years since their increased longevity has stalled.

Alan Evans, from the ONS, said : “The slowdown in life expectancy improvements that has been observed in the UK since 2011 is also evident in a number of countries across Europe, North America and Australia. However, the UK has experienced one of the largest slowdowns in life expectancy at birth and at age 65 years for males and females.”

Only in the USA was there a greater slowdown in 'life expectancy growth at birth' than in Britain where improvements dropped by nearly 76%, from 17.3 weeks per year between 2006 and 2011 to 4.2 weeks per year between 2011 and 2016. In other words, old men in Britain are living longer, on average. year by year, but only by a month and far slower than their counterparts in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

As academics earlier this year noted, as they demanded a public inquiry, it represents one of the worst slowdowns in life expectancy improvements in around 120 years. Last October, the ONS revised down life expectancy by the year 2041 by nearly a year less than their estimates in 2015. As Professor Danny Dorling and Stuart Gietel-Basten note, that means one million projected earlier deaths over the next four decades.

How can this be explained ?

Could it be alcohol use ? Apparently "No" : It has been steadily falling, with the ONS finding in 2016 that alcohol consumption had fallen to its lowest rate since the survey began in 2005. What about tobacco-related deaths ? Again, "No" : There are fewer smokers in Britain than ever. Could it be influenza-related deaths ? Again, "No" : As Dorling notes, there has not been a major influenza outbreak since the increase in life expectancy ground to a halt.

Has Britain simply reached a plateau – that life expectancy cannot keep increasing for ever ? Again the answer is "No." As Professor Martin McKee has said : "We are a long way off that,” observing that life expectancy in Japan and Scandinavian nations is higher.

The answer could well be wrapped up in the fact that, this year academics demanded an urgent inquiry into whether Government-driven austerity policies could be behind a stagnation in life expectancy ? They accused the Government of repeatedly ignoring concerns about a potential link between death rates and under funding of the National Health Service and social care.

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