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Tuesday, 9 October, 2001, 23:21 GMT 00:21 UK
Health gap widening
Inner city
There is severe deprivation in some parts of London
The health gap between the rich and the poor is widening in London - and probably in the rest of the country, research suggests.

A report published by the London Health Observatory (LHO), set up by the government to monitor health inequalities, reveals glaring discrepancies between affluent and deprived areas of the capital.

For instance, a baby boy born in one of the poorest boroughs of London, Newham, is likely to die nearly six years earlier than a baby boy born in Westminster, one of the richest boroughs.

For baby boys born in the early 1990s, the gap between rich and poor boroughs was only five years.

Increased risk

Our study uncovers the wide and often hidden health inequalities between communities living cheek by jowl in the capital

Dr Bobbie Jacobson
A baby born in another of the poorest boroughs, Hackney has more than double the risk of dying in the first year of life than a baby born in relatively affluent Bexley.

The government is pledged to close the health gap between rich and poor.

But the LHO report warns that if current trends continue, the gap will widen, not close.

It also says that the situation in London is likely to be happening across the country.

Dr Bobbie Jacobson, LHO director, said: "Our study dispels the myth that the health of Londoners compares well with the rest of the country.

"It uncovers the wide and often hidden health inequalities between communities living cheek by jowl in the capital."

Life expectancy

The report shows that there are areas of London which have some of the shortest life expectancy in England, and others which have some of the longest.

Infant mortality rates vary widely
Westminster had the longest life expectancy for both male and females within London and ranks 26th and 13th respectively within England.

Newham had the shortest life expectancy within London for both males and females and ranks 349 and 320 respectively within England out of a total of 352 authorities.

Even within boroughs there were vast differences in average life expectancy between areas, according to the level of deprivation.

Infant mortality

Hackney was the borough with the highest infant mortality rate of 8.9 infant deaths per 1,000 live births - nearly three times as high as Bexley, which recorded the lowest rate (3.6 per 1,000).

The infant mortality rate was highest among single mothers. In some parts of London, one in six babies is born to a single mother.

Dr Jacobson said: "The findings for infant mortality are stark. They show that London compares poorly with many other European cities and there are wide inequalities between different parts of London."

She said that a range of actions was needed to tackle health inequalities, and in some cases rich boroughs would also need help to deal with pockets of deprivation.

One of the most effective strategies would be to focus on reducing smoking rates.

Anna Coote, Director of Public Health for the King's Fund, the London health think-tank, said: "Today's report should make salutary reading for policymakers and politicians.

"Enduring and steep inequalities in health cannot be reduced without a concerted effort from public services to tackle them."

Dr Sue Atkinson, Director of Public Health for London and health advisor to the Mayor, said: "This report really brings home the need for effective action at all levels if we are to reach the targets."

The Child Poverty Action Group expressed dismay at the findings of the report.

Director Martin Barnes said: "These shocking statistics reveal the scandal of inequality in London and we are deeply concerned.

"We have welcomed the governments moves to eradicate child poverty within a generation but the widening gap between the rich and the poor confirms the need for more urgent action."

See also:

28 Feb 01 | Health
Labour: We'll save 3,000 children
24 Jan 01 | Health
Ethnic health inequalities
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