There are major health problems in the majority of the 48 parliamentary seats won from Labour by the Tories in December’s general election. Figures from the Health Foundation think tank show that average female healthy life expectancy in the new Tory seats is just 60.9 years.
This is lower than the healthy life expectancy in the areas Labour held (61.4), below the England average of 63.9 years, and over four years less than the 65 years of life expectancy in wealthier traditional Tory seats.
The Health Foundation expresses the hope that the new cohort of northern and midlands Tory MPs will see this as “an incentive to take action on improving healthy life expectancy”.
However, for many older people, it’s already too late. The Health Foundation also points out that the strongest influences on health are “the circumstances in which we are born, grow, live, work and age,” known as social determinants of health.
The reality is that the newly-elected Tories now represent some of the poorest parts of the country, while the core of their party is based in the wealthiest: and only policies that seek to redistribute some of that wealth away from the richest can improve the living standards and living conditions of those on the lowest incomes.
Geographer Danny Dorling points out that after a decade of austerity and massive cuts in local government and welfare spending, life expectancy across the whole of the UK has begun to fall, for the first time in recent history: we are the only country in Europe where this is happening.
Tory ministers and Public Health England have tried to blame the weather and the flu – but the UK has not had an exceptionally cold winter since 2010, and there has not been a major flu epidemic.
Dorling points out that premature deaths of older people have risen as social care has been cut back, leaving a million without support, and real terms NHS funding has fallen.
But infant mortality has also been rising in England and Wales, but falling in Scotland, where the government has diverted funds to invest in mothers and babies.
NHS policies claim to be reducing inequalities in health, but there is growing concern that welfare and social care spending cuts are causing inequalities to widen, and a new report from the Nuffield Trust points out that this also applies to health care, resulting in a “double deficit”, where people in these areas have greater needs but also poorer access to GP services and hospital care.
With a staggering £100 billion (and more) now being thrown at the dubious HS2 project to speed the journeys of wealthy people travelling north (and back again), many of those who voted Tory for the first time would benefit far more from dropping the planned new round of spending cuts, and instead spending even a fraction of the HS2 budget to improve health and social care and revive the flagging economy of what is becoming the ‘northern poorhouse’.
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