Being born in the north of England can take a decade off your life expectancy

Blackpool, sickest town in England. Image: Getty.

In spite of being one of the richest nations in Europe, England has some of the worst health inequalities. And within England, some of the very lowest life expectancies can be found in the north.

Analysis published yesterday by IPPR North shows us that, if you’re from the north, you can expect to spend a larger proportion at the end of your life in poor health. In all three of the northern regions, healthy life expectancy – the age at which, on average, people see the end of good health – is lower than the state pension age. This means that northerners, on average, don't even begin to collect their state pension until their health has begun to deteriorate.

At its lowest, healthy life expectancy can be over in the 40s. And neighborhoods where healthy life expectancy is lowest are disproportionately concentrated in the north. Shockingly, in one Salford neighbourhood it's 46, compared to the English average of 63.

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Life expectancy too, in addition to healthy life expectancy, is unacceptably low in parts of the north. In one neighbourhood in Blackpool, the average male life expectancy at birth is 68, compared to the English average of 79.

This pattern, of a north disproportionately affected by health inequalities, can be seen too in specific diseases. Lung cancer is more prevalent in the north’s cities, and liver cancer is strikingly prevalent in Merseyside, Cheshire, Greater Manchester, Northumberland and Tyne & Wear.

Of course, a number of complex factors affect poor health. One of these is air pollution – a big concern for many of the North’s major cities.

Take Greater Manchester, for example. The city region has the highest rate of emergency admissions for asthma in the whole country, and recent research by IPPR North shows that the poor air quality in Greater Manchester alone will cost 1.6 million life years in the coming century and £1bn each year to the economy.

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These stark findings should lead policymakers to ask this key question: is the economy of the North actually detrimental to the health and well-being of its people?

As part of the answer to this question, it’s important to consider the quality of northerners’ jobs. Not only is there an association between whether someone is in work and their health, but the nature of employment is also a determining factor. And it’s important to note that employment-related health problems disproportionately affect people with disabilities, ethnic minorities, and those from disadvantaged socioeconomic groups.

Poor working conditions, lack of job security, long hours, shift work, low pay: situations often seen in the ‘everyday economy sectors’ including health and social care, retail and hospitality, and routine manual occupations – all contribute to poor job quality. Change is needed.

In order to allow more people to enjoy their retirement in good health, we need to work to increase healthy life expectancy. The disparity between the north and south in healthy life expectancy may be significant, but it’s not insurmountable.


One answer? Policymakers should make improving the health and well-being of people a strategic goal of economic policy across the UK, especially in the north.

To achieve this, improving the quality of work in the north is essential. Yes, we need growth to happen – but not for its own sake. Instead we need growth that enables all people to see its benefits.

Inclusive growth is already an aim of many northern areas, and some mayors are in the process of creating employment charters to improve job quality in collaboration with business. However, in order to deliver positive outcomes for the north in general, this needs a radical up-scaling. Northern leaders aren’t currently equipped with the tools and budgets that they need. However, even without greater resources, small steps can and should be made.

Businesses must invest in their workforces and local areas, and aim to deliver high quality work – creating better places to live, and delivering better livelihoods for people.

Most importantly, for people to benefit from economic growth, the Northern Powerhouse agenda should focus on delivering economic justice. Economic policy is a powerful tool that can be used to improve health, well-being, and the quality of work. To do so, central government must support inclusive growth at the regional level, considering the health inputs and outcomes of local economies and embedding a ‘health in all policies’ approach into decisions made within the next phase of the Northern Powerhouse.

Leah Millward is a co-author of State of the North 2018. She tweets @LeahMillward.

 
 
 
 

“Without rent control we can’t hope to solve London’s housing crisis”

You BET! Oh GOD. Image: Getty.

Today, the mayor of London called for new powers to introduce rent controls in London. With ever increasing rents swallowing more of people’s income and driving poverty, the free market has clearly failed to provide affordable homes for Londoners. 

Created in 1988, the modern private rented sector was designed primarily to attract investment, with the balance of power weighted almost entirely in landlords’ favour. As social housing stock has been eroded, with more than 1 million fewer social rented homes today compared to 1980, and as the financialisation of homes has driven up house prices, more and more people are getting trapped private renting. In 1990 just 11 per cent of households in London rented privately, but by 2017 this figure had grown to 27 per cent; it is also home to an increasing number of families and older people. 

When I first moved to London, I spent years spending well over 50 per cent of my income on rent. Even without any dependent to support, after essentials my disposable income was vanishingly small. London has the highest rent to income ratio of any region, and the highest proportion of households spending over a third of their income on rent. High rents limit people’s lives, and in London this has become a major driver of poverty and inequality. In the three years leading up to 2015-16, 960,000 private renters were living in poverty, and over half of children growing up in private rented housing are living in poverty.

So carefully designed rent controls therefore have the potential to reduce poverty and may also contribute over time to the reduction of the housing benefit bill (although any housing bill reductions have to come after an expansion of the system, which has been subject to brutal cuts over the last decade). Rent controls may also support London’s employers, two-thirds of whom are struggling to recruit entry-level staff because of the shortage of affordable homes. 

It’s obvious that London rents are far too high, and now an increasing number of voices are calling for rent controls as part of the solution: 68 per cent of Londoners are in favour, and a growing renters’ movement has emerged. Groups like the London Renters Union have already secured a massive victory in the outlawing of section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions. But without rent control, landlords can still unfairly get rid of tenants by jacking up rents.


At the New Economics Foundation we’ve been working with the Mayor of London and the Greater London Authority to research what kind of rent control would work in London. Rent controls are often polarising in the UK but are commonplace elsewhere. New York controls rents on many properties, and Berlin has just introduced a five year “rental lid”, with the mayor citing a desire to not become “like London” as a motivation for the policy. 

A rent control that helps to solve London’s housing crisis would need to meet several criteria. Since rents have risen three times faster than average wages since 2010, rent control should initially brings rents down. Our research found that a 1 per cent reduction in rents for four years could lead to 20 per cent cheaper rents compared to where they would be otherwise. London also needs a rent control both within and between tenancies because otherwise landlords can just reset rents when tenancies end.

Without rent control we can’t hope to solve London’s housing crisis – but it’s not without risk. Decreases in landlord profits could encourage current landlords to exit the sector and discourage new ones from entering it. And a sharp reduction in the supply of privately rented homes would severely reduce housing options for Londoners, whilst reducing incentives for landlords to maintain and improve their properties.

Rent controls should be introduced in a stepped way to minimise risks for tenants. And we need more information on landlords, rents, and their business models in order to design a rent control which avoids unintended consequences.

Rent controls are also not a silver bullet. They need to be part of a package of solutions to London’s housing affordability crisis, including a large scale increase in social housebuilding and an improvement in housing benefit. However, private renting will be part of London’s housing system for some time to come, and the scale of the affordability crisis in London means that the question of rent controls is no longer “if”, but increasingly “how”. 

Joe Beswick is head of housing & land at the New Economics Foundation.