The gap between the life expectancy of the most affluent and the least well off has widened, despite record NHS spending in an effort to close it, an official government watchdog has revealed.
Between the mid 90s and 2006-08, life expectancy improved for everyone, but men from wealthier backgrounds saw a jump that was 7% greater than the poorest and women from the same socio-economic group were 14% better off.
A National Audit Office (NAO) report, which focused on 70 of the most deprived areas in England, found that in 1995-97 men in poorer areas were expected to live 72.7 years, compared with 74.6 years in the rest of England – a difference of 1.9 years.
By 2006-08, the life expectancy of men in these areas rose to 75.8, but the average for men in the rest of the country went up to 77.9 years, a difference of 2.1 years.
Women in poorer areas could expect to live to 78.3 in 1995-97, compared with 79.7 in the rest of the country, a difference of 1.4 years. But by 2006-08, poorer women would live to 80.4 while their more affluent counterparts would, on average, live to 82, stretching the gap to 1.6 years.
The figures come despite a Labour target in 2000 to reduce the difference in life expectancy by 10% between the poorest and richest by 2010.
But the report shows although people are expected to live longer overall, the gap between deprived areas and other areas continued to grow and the target is unlikely to be met.
NAO head Amyas Morse said: "The best cost-effective interventions have been identified and now must be employed on a larger scale in order to have a greater impact and improve value for money."
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"I think there has been little progress since the Black report of the 50s. I do not know the answer but working in one of most deprived practice areas in the country I do know that many people are their own worst enemies by failing to attend appointments for screening etc. The real problem seems to me to be one of health education people just expect drs to be able to sort them out preferably yesterday, while taking no responsibilty for their own health" – Name and address withheld