Trends in health inequality

There is evidence that overall life expectancy is rising in Scotland and the UK. Death rates from Scotland’s three most significant killers (heart disease, cancer, and stroke) are falling nationally.

But not all groups across society are benefiting equally from increased life expectancy or improved health. In most but not all cases, the biggest improvement in health and life expectancy has been from the wealthiest groups in the wealthiest areas.

In general, there has been a widening of the life expectancy gap between the most affluent and least affluent people or between the most affluent areas and the most deprived areas.

Among the most deprived groups in society there has been little reduction in cancer rates. Most of the reductions in cancer rates in the last few years have been from the most affluent. This has resulted in a growing health gap.

On the other hand, the greatest falls in heart disease rates in Scotland have been among the poorest groups. Here the gap between most and least affluent has reduced. (Source: JRF Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion Scotland 2013).

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Life expectancy is often recorded as HLE or years of Healthy Life Expectancy. HLE has been widely used from around 2009/10. This change was introduced to bring UK statistics in line with other EU countries.

HLE statistics may also be slowly rising for all groups. However, the wealthiest groups continue to enjoy a greater number of years of life before people claim ill health.