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.

 
 
 
 

Green roofs improve cities – so why don’t all buildings have them?

The green roof at the Kennedy Centre, Washington DC. Image: Getty.

Rooftops covered with grass, vegetable gardens and lush foliage are now a common sight in many cities around the world. More and more private companies and city authorities are investing in green roofs, drawn to their wide-ranging benefits which include savings on energy costs, mitigating the risk from floods, creating habitats for urban wildlife, tackling air pollution and urban heat and even producing food.

A recent report in the UK suggested that the green roof market there is expanding at a rate of 17 per cent each year. The world’s largest rooftop farm will open in Paris in 2020, superseding similar schemes in New York City and Chicago. Stuttgart, in Germany, is thought of as “the green roof capital of Europe”, while Singapore is even installing green roofs on buses.

These increasingly radical urban designs can help cities adapt to the monumental challenges they face, such as access to resources and a lack of green space due to development. But buy-in from city authorities, businesses and other institutions is crucial to ensuring their success – as is research investigating different options to suit the variety of rooftop spaces found in cities.

A growing trend

The UK is relatively new to developing green roofs, and governments and institutions are playing a major role in spreading the practice. London is home to much of the UK’s green roof market, mainly due to forward-thinking policies such as the 2008 London Plan, which paved the way to more than double the area of green roofs in the capital.

Although London has led the way, there are now “living labs” at the Universities of Sheffield and Salford which are helping to establish the precedent elsewhere. The IGNITION project – led by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority – involves the development of a living lab at the University of Salford, with the aim of uncovering ways to convince developers and investors to adopt green roofs.

Ongoing research is showcasing how green roofs can integrate with living walls and sustainable drainage systems on the ground, such as street trees, to better manage water and make the built environment more sustainable.

Research is also demonstrating the social value of green roofs. Doctors are increasingly prescribing time spent gardening outdoors for patients dealiong with anxiety and depression. And research has found that access to even the most basic green spaces can provide a better quality of life for dementia sufferers and help prevent obesity.

An edible roof at Fenway Park, stadium of the Boston Red Sox. Image: Michael Hardman/author provided.

In North America, green roofs have become mainstream, with a wide array of expansive, accessible and food-producing roofs installed in buildings. Again, city leaders and authorities have helped push the movement forward – only recently, San Francisco created a policy requiring new buildings to have green roofs. Toronto has policies dating from the 1990s, encouraging the development of urban farms on rooftops.

These countries also benefit from having newer buildings, which make it easier to install green roofs. Being able to store and distribute water right across the rooftop is crucial to maintaining the plants on any green roof – especially on “edible roofs” which farm fruit and vegetables. And it’s much easier to create this capacity in newer buildings, which can typically hold greater weight, than retro-fit old ones. Having a stronger roof also makes it easier to grow a greater variety of plants, since the soil can be deeper.


The new normal?

For green roofs to become the norm for new developments, there needs to be buy-in from public authorities and private actors. Those responsible for maintaining buildings may have to acquire new skills, such as landscaping, and in some cases volunteers may be needed to help out. Other considerations include installing drainage paths, meeting health and safety requirements and perhaps allowing access for the public, as well as planning restrictions and disruption from regular ativities in and around the buildings during installation.

To convince investors and developers that installing green roofs is worthwhile, economic arguments are still the most important. The term “natural capital” has been developed to explain the economic value of nature; for example, measuring the money saved by installing natural solutions to protect against flood damage, adapt to climate change or help people lead healthier and happier lives.

As the expertise about green roofs grows, official standards have been developed to ensure that they are designed, built and maintained properly, and function well. Improvements in the science and technology underpinning green roof development have also led to new variations on the concept.

For example, “blue roofs” increase the capacity of buildings to hold water over longer periods of time, rather than drain away quickly – crucial in times of heavier rainfall. There are also combinations of green roofs with solar panels, and “brown roofs” which are wilder in nature and maximise biodiversity.

If the trend continues, it could create new jobs and a more vibrant and sustainable local food economy – alongside many other benefits. There are still barriers to overcome, but the evidence so far indicates that green roofs have the potential to transform cities and help them function sustainably long into the future. The success stories need to be studied and replicated elsewhere, to make green, blue, brown and food-producing roofs the norm in cities around the world.

Michael Hardman, Senior Lecturer in Urban Geography, University of Salford and Nick Davies, Research Fellow, University of Salford.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.