Health care inequalities in the UK no better under New Labour

Despite government rhetoric about its commitment to tackle the problem, health inequalities continue to widen in the UK, and under New Labour the promises made do not compare with reality.

Researcher Mary Shaw, Reader in Medical Sociology, at the Department of Social Medicine, University of Bristol, and colleagues, have shown in a new 10-year analysis that Health inequalities in Britain continued to widened in the 1980s and 1990s, despite the current governments' repeatedly expressed intentions to reduce these inequalities. In February 2001 it announced national targets to reduce the gap in infant mortality across social groups and to raise life expectancy in the most disadvantaged areas faster than elsewhere by 2010.

However this latest analysis shows that inequalities in life expectancy have continued to widen in the early years of the 21st century, along with a general trend of widening inequalities in income and wealth.

In the most advantaged areas of the country life expectancy continues to rise at a greater pace than in the poorest areas.

For example the difference in life expectancy of men in Glasgow, the local authority with the lowest life expectancy, and East Dorset the one with the highest, has risen to 11 years. The researchers say such inequalities have never been as high since Victorian times and have increased from 3.71 in 1992-94 to 3.87 in 2001-03.

Income inequalities also increased significantly in the 1980s and have been sustained into the 2000s, although encouragingly a fall in income inequalities in the most recent time period can be seen. Current income inequalities mean that the poorest 10% in society now receive 3% of the nation's total income, while the richest 10% receive more than a quarter.

Since the 1970s wealth inequality has also increased and does not bode well for future trends in health inequalities, say the authors.

Although New Labour has succeeded in raising the living standards of some of the poorest people in Britain, inequalities in wealth have continued to grow and are likely to be transmitted to the next generation, the researchers say that 'more substantial redistributive policies are needed that address both poverty and income inequality'.

The research is published in the British Medical Journal.

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