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Public health experts in Scotland call for action on poverty to revive stalled life expectancy

Experts in public health from Scotland and across the UK have identified the low incomes faced by many Scottish citizens as the primary cause of Scotland’s stalling life expectancy, with those in Scotland’s poorest areas living shorter lives than seven years ago. At its Conference in Dunblane the Faculty of Public Health called for action on poverty to tackle this worrying trend.

Life expectancy in Scotland had been steadily improving since the 1940s but stalled in 2012, and has now started to fall for Scotland’s poorest people. Scotland is not alone in seeing this happen, with similar trends in England, Wales and Northern Ireland; whilst other countries such as Denmark have continued to enjoy rapidly improving life expectancy.

President of the Faculty of Public Health Professor Maggie Rae said, “Life expectancy has stalled because more people in their 30s, 40s and 50s are dying than in the past, with the poorest in Scotland most affected by this trend.

Many people are trying to survive on low incomes and in precarious employment. Social security has been reduced and it’s difficult for people to get – and retain – the financial support they need. We also know that funding pressures on local government and the NHS are having an effect, with all of this combining to negatively impact life expectancy.”

Convenor of the Faculty of Public Health in Scotland, Doctor Julie Cavanagh said, “This is the biggest public health challenge that Scotland has faced for many decades and without urgent action it will continue to impact people in Scotland for decades into the future. It will require strong political leadership and sustained action to turn these trends round. The health and wellbeing of Scotland’s population must be the priority in all public sector policy development.

The Faculty of Public Health wish to see a Scotland where everyone has an equal chance of a healthy life, rather than an unfair situation where low incomes, cuts to public services and social security are causing people in Scotland to die before their time. We are therefore calling upon local and national governments across the UK to take urgent action on poverty. We must work together to restore the life expectancy trajectory to the levels seen prior to 2012, and to the rates of improvements seen in other countries.” 

Published 29 November 2019

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