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Rich-poor health divide grows wider

The life expectancy gap between the richest and poorest members of UK society is widening, official figures have shown.

Despite the previous Labour government detailing plans in 2000 to cut the difference in life expectancy between the rich and the poor by 10% by 2010, the gap has actually increased by 7% for men and double that figure for women.

While people in both sections of society are living longer today than they were when the targets were originally set, the gulf in life expectancy between both rich and poor, male and female, is wider than experts had predicted.

Between 1995-97, men living in the poorest areas in England had a life expectancy of 72.7 years, compared to 74.6 years in the more well-heeled regions.

Likewise, women living in poorer areas could expect to live to 78.3 in 1995-97, compared to 79.7 in the rest of the country.

However, by comparing the figures with today's environment, analysts at the National Audit Office (NAO) found that, overall, the gap between life expectancy of men in the poorest and richest areas of the country has increased by 7% from between 1995-97 and 2006-08.

In 2006-08, men in poor areas could expect to live to 75.8 compared with 77.9 in the rest of England - a 7% increase on the gap witnessed a decade earlier.

The life expectancy gap was even greater for women at 14% between the same period of time, with women in poor areas living to 80.4 compared to 82 in affluent areas.

The figures show that although people are living longer than ever in both poor and rich areas of the country, the disparity in financial status is still manifesting itself in the life expectancies of both groups.

NAO head, Amyas Morse, said: "The best cost-effective interventions have been identified and now must be employed on a larger scale in order to have a greater impact and improve value for money."

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NAO report