September 1, 2008

Live in a Posher Area and Expect to Last Longer


IT ALWAYS astonishes me that in this tiny fogbound island built on a rocky outcrop of coal, there should be such a range of accents.

Commuting eastwards by train from Liverpool the change in voices and, indeed, attitudes they embody always comes as a surprise.

But the divisions run far deeper than that. Social inequalities create an astonishing difference in life expectancy for people who live just a few miles apart in many of our cities. The low, probable age of death for the poorer members of society is practically Victorian, hardly touched by advances in modern medicine or dietary knowledge.

These variations have been highlighted by a World Health Organisation survey which looked at neighbouring suburbs in Glasgow and London. A boy from the poor suburb of Calton, in Glasgow, could expect to live to no more than 54, in contrast to an identically- aged boy from the far more affluent nearby suburb of Lenzie who could live to 83.

Likewise, in London, children brought up in leafy, comfortable Hampstead was likely to live 11 years more than another a short distance away in St Pancras. So what causes this incredible disparity that 60 years of the welfare state with free health care "at the point of delivery" was meant to eradicate?

The three-year long study claims it is social factors, not genetic ones that are at the root of this vast difference in life expectancy. When analysed, these social determinants decided by government policy are far more important than genetics and biology. In surprisingly dramatic language, the report says that: "Social injustice is killing people on a grand scale."

It continues: "The toxic combination of bad policies, economics and politics is, in large measure, responsible for the fact that a majority of people in the world do not enjoy the good health that is biologically possible."

But the good news is that it is possible to change the situation within a generation. According to the report called Closing the Gap in a Generation: Health Equity through Action on the Social Determinants of Health, there is a direct correlation in almost every country between poor socio-economic circumstances and poor health.

It is a mystery to many of us that the UK has slumped into this situation. I can't recall ever seeing so many unhealthy-looking, overweight people as you do now, which must be the result of poor diet and our more sedentary lives.

Sir Michael Marmot, chairman of the survey commission, says: "There are examples where health inequalities have narrowed but, in too many cases, we have seen a widening. That means the magnitude of inequalities is flexible - if the gap can get wider, it can get narrower."

He claims that we have seen a general improvement in people's health over the last eight years. Unfortunately this has not been as significant for the worst off. It is shocking that such a gap still exists in modern Britain.

FINALLY I want to say a big thank you to everyone who helped make such a success of the Daily Post and National Museums Liverpool's inaugural series of summer steam trains from Liverpool Lime Street to North Wales and Carlisle.

The original eight trains were whittled down to five, thanks to Network Rail suddenly deciding it wanted to dig up Broad Green at short notice on three Sundays. All five trains ran full, which bodes very well for next year and those who were disappointed at not being able to travel.

So well done Claire Rider, of NML, who thought up the idea to coincide with the Walker art gallery's wonderful Art in the Age of Steam exhibition, Nigel Dobbing, of Railway Touring Company who actually made it happen and all our train staff, including Crewe's finest, such as drivers Hart, Morrison, Williamson and Murfin. Then there were the fantastically dedicated support crews for the locomotives Princess Elizabeth and Union of South Africa (the latter owned by John Cameron) which provided the crucial motive power.

Not forgetting, of course, all of our readers without whom as paying passengers the trains could not have run.

Shocking that such a gap still exists in modern Britain

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