One of the worst starts to this year was the news of the sudden death of my friend and colleague, Jack Dromey.
He was taken from us far too soon. His death coincides with the release of new figures which show that life expectancy, for most of us, is falling steadily.
As a former trade union leader, Jack blamed factors like unemployment, poor working conditions and inadequate social policies. He was fond of making his point by telling a story of an imaginary train journey between Erdington and Sutton Four Oaks stations. Over that short distance, life expectancy between wealthy Sutton Four Oaks and Erdington varies by as much as seven years for a man and four for a woman.
After years of improvement, longevity is decreasing in this country, down by a fifth in some parts of the Midlands. People in urban areas have the lowest life expectancy. However, it’s up by as much as nine years for those living in the more affluent areas.
Men in richer neighbourhoods can live up to 10 years longer than those in poorer neighbourhoods. It used to be the case that, in wealthy countries, lifespan only declined because of things like war or pandemics but the latest data shows it’s been falling long before
Covid struck. When that happens, in normal times, it’s usually associated with growing poverty, poor housing, homelessness and a lack of adequate health and social care services.
If we’re going to arrest this dreadful situation, we need a step change with proper investment in our communities and health services. The government claims that’s part of a ‘levelling up’ agenda but surely they must realise it requires more than a few competitions for town centre grants or bungs to constituencies where Tory MPs won seats at the last election. There must be more.
A place like Birmingham needs sustained long term support to help us maintain our health and care services and rebuild our crumbling communities. The alternative is that the lives of more and more people are cut short in this, the sixth richest country in the world.