Growing divide in regional health inequalities exposed


A new report has found a worrying pattern of lower life expectancy, higher infant mortality and worse health and wellbeing in the North of England.

Health Equity North: 2023 provides a snapshot of the health issues facing the North and adds to a growing body of evidence highlighting the urgent need to address regional health inequalities and improve productivity in the North.

The report marks the launch of Health Equity North (HEN), a new virtual institute focused on place-based solutions to public health problems and health inequalities across the North of England.

The institute’s academic directors – including the University of Liverpool’s Professor David Taylor-Robinson, analysed the latest available data on life expectancy, infant mortality rates and self-assessed health, disability, and unpaid care, and the findings have exposed the worsening health divide between the North and the rest of England.

The North does significantly worse in all these areas, which also impacts productivity with above average rates of economic inactivity due to ill health or disability.

The key findings include:

  • People born in the North can expect to live at least one year less than the English average.
  • The North East of England has the lowest life expectancy - around three years less than the best performing regions
  • Across the North there is an average of 4 deaths per 1,000 live births compared to 3 deaths per 1,000 live births in London and the South East - this equated to an extra 144 infant deaths in the North in 2021
  • Of the 72 local authorities in the North of England, 52 (72%) have lower levels of very good or good health than the national average
  • The North has higher rates of bad/very bad health with 6.9% of people in the North East, 6.4% in North West, and 5.9% in Yorkshire and the Humber reporting bad/very bad health - compared to the English average of 5.3%
  • The North has the highest rates of people who report that their day-to-day activities are limited a lot by a disability: North East (9.8%), North West (9.1%), Yorkshire and the Humber (8.2%) – compared to the English average of 7.5%
  • The five local authorities with the highest levels of people who report a disability limits their day-to-day actives a lot are located in the North: Knowsley (North West; 13%), Liverpool (North West; 12.7%), Blackpool (North West; 12%), Manchester (North West; 11.4%), and Hartlepool (North East; 11.3%)
  • The North has higher rates of economic inactivity due to ill health or disability: 5.7% in the North East, 5.3% in the North West, 4.7% in Yorkshire and the Humber – compared to the English average of 4.1%
  • The top five local authorities with the highest levels of economic inactivity due to long-term sickness or disability are in the North
  • More people in the North state that they provide unpaid care - in the North East 10.1%, the North West 9.7%, and Yorkshire and the Humber is 9.3%, compared to the English average of 8.9%

HEN brings together leading academics who have a unique understanding of their regional communities enabling the creation of research and policy solutions of local benefit. The institute will produce annual updates of health in the North to help and challenge local and national policy makers in their efforts to reduce regional inequalities.

The institute directors were joined by leading health and policy experts from across the North of England at the HEN launch event in Leeds today [April 19, 2023], where they discussed the findings of the new report and HEN’s mission to tackle inequalities in the northern regions.

David Taylor-Robinson, HEN Academic Director, Professor of Public Health and Policy at the University of Liverpool, and co-author of the report, said: “It is not acceptable that children born in the North face the prospect of shorter lives. Everyone deserves to have the same chances, but we know that many families in the North face a daily struggle to meet basic needs. While our report is a sobering read it also provides clear recommendations on a range of short and long term measures that could help improve health outcomes for people across the North.”

Hannah Davies, HEN Director, Health Inequalities lead for the Northern Health Science Alliance and report co-author, said: “This report tells a damning story of health in the North. For too long the region has been sold platitudes about levelling up but these findings show that yet again the North’s health is lagging behind because effective policies and interventions haven’t been put in place. Now more than ever, we urge policy makers to act on the recommendations made in this report.”

The report authors have made a series of recommendations to help improve health and productivity in the North.

Click here to read the full report and find out more about Health Equity North.