Guardian News and Media/London
Growth in life expectancy in the UK has come to a halt, and in some areas decreased, figures show.
The statistics represent the lowest improvement in life expectancy since records began and puts the UK behind other leading economies.
Public health experts have blamed care failings and cuts to social services, while charities described the findings as “deeply depressing” and called for extra investment into Britain’s care system. The revelation comes after Jeremy Hunt, then the health secretary, announced that the green paper on the long-awaited reform of care and support of older people in England had been delayed again until the autumn. The paper and a review of funding and reform, originally scheduled to be published last year, is due for implementation in 2020.
A girl born in England between 2015 and 2017 is expected to live until 82.9 years old, which is no change on the previous figure for 2014 to 2016, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The figure for baby boys born in England in 2015 to 2017 is also unchanged, at 79.2 years.
But for males and females in Scotland and Wales, life expectancy has declined by 0.1 years, with males in Northern Ireland seeing a similar fall.
Sophie Sanders, of the ONS Centre for Ageing and Demography, said the figures represented “the lowest improvements in life expectancy since the start of the series in 1980 to 1982”.
“This slowing in improvements is reflected in the chances of surviving to age 90 years from birth, which has also seen virtually no improvement since 2012 to 2014,” she added.
Sir Steve Webb, a former Liberal Democrat pensions minister and director of policy at Royal London, said: “The UK has slumped from being one of the strongest performers when it comes to improving life expectancy to bottom of the league. There is a real human cost behind these statistics and we urgently need to understand more about why this is happening.”
He added: “The government needs to conduct urgent research into these worrying trends. If other countries can ride out the economic storms and continue to drive up life expectancy, there is no reason why the UK should not be able to do so.” But while growth in life expectancy at age 90 has stalled, as have the chances of surviving from birth to age 90, the number of people aged 90 and over is still increasing. This is because of previous improvements in mortality going back many decades, which have resulted in an increasing proportion, and number, of people reaching 90 years over time.
The number of centenarians in the UK was slightly lower in 2017 than it was in 2016 – down to 14,430 from 14,510. This corresponds with low numbers of births during World War I.
The number of centenarians is expected to decrease further in 2018 before increasing again from 2019, in line with the pattern shown 10 years earlier for those aged 90 years and over.
Jane Ashcroft, the chief executive of Anchor, England’s largest not-for-profit provider of care and housing for older people, said the figures strengthened calls for a dedicated minister for old people.
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