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10th August 2017

“Brave, political decisions” must be made to resolve the North-South death rate divide

Premature death rates in the North are alarmingly high, and co-author of the University of Manchester report that found this, Iain Buchan, tells The Mancunion that investment is needed at a national level to rectify the problem

Around 1.2 million more Northerners died before the age of 75 than their southern counterparts since 1965 a study from the University of Manchester has found.

Not only that, but the gap is steadily widening, according to the team led by Iain Buchan, professor in Public Health Informatics at the university.

To investigate the divide, the team split England into “north” and “south”, with the latter made up of of the East, South East, South West and London. Using data from the Office for National Statistics, they then combined figures on the numbers of deaths in each region with population estimates.

What they found was a North-South divide in deaths among middle aged adults, which has been rising since the mid-90s and is now at alarming levels: 49% more premature deaths occurred among 35-44 year olds in the North in 2015 than in the south, with 29% more deaths among 25-34 year olds.

When The Mancunion asked Iain Buchan what he thought was responsible for this vast inequality, he told us that the “main underlying factor” was the inequality in investment in public health services.

“Early death rates are a maker of overall public health, and the strongest determinants of that are social and economic  factors” Mr Buchan continued, explaining that the team that worked on the report could have focused on deaths caused by smoking, alcohol and physical health, but the combination of all of these points towards a more general lack in funding.

Mr Buchan continued that people who have pointing towards the popularity of fast food outlets such as Gregg’s as perhaps contributing to this problem, are entirely mistaken. Iain’s team were very indignant in their belief that no one franchise, group in society or other factor should be blamed as the sole reason for this inequality.

A lack of proper education on living well is also thought to contribute: “You can’t just tell people to lead healthier lives, that message won’t get through in the North, especially to those under a lot of stress. A single mum holding down multiple jobs has less opportunity to make healthier choices than people with one, steady job.”

When asked about a possible solution, Mr Buchan suggested “investing in communities through the creation of jobs and good schools, that create social capital as well as economic security, creates an environment for better health.”

When asked if this could be achieved through the Government’s recent announcement that they would invest £15mil in Arts and Culture in the North, Mr Buchan said “it’s not enough. Announcements like this are welcome but they’re tiny in proportion to the size of the problem.”

He proposed a 20% “northern weighting” when distributing national funds, in the same way that London gets its own weighting, to close this cost of early death.

This focus on national funding would also help avoid “national government [pushing] responsibility to different regions.” Mr Buchan admitted it would be akin to political suicide to try and lobby for something like this, but believes that this is a price worth paying.

Manchester City Council have so far not responded to The Mancunion’s request for comment.

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