Health inequalities growing in Scotland while poor die younger, report says


Health inequalities in Scotland are not only stark but growing, according to a major new report. It warns that a boy born today in its poorest districts will live for 14 years less than one born in the richest, while poor girls will live for eight years less.

Meanwhile, heart disease claims twice as many victims in Scotland’s deprived areas, while cancer rates are 50 per cent higher, according to research carried out by the respected Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

The figures mask some improvements. Between 2000 and 2009 heart disease death rates amongst Scotland’s poorest 15 per cent fell from 150 per 100,000 to 100. The average fell from 90 to 50.

“So the fall was steeper in the more deprived areas, but the rate is now double the average,” said the foundation’s sixth State of the Nation report, published today, which draws on all available national and local official data.

Cancer mortality

That was not true for cancer mortality, however, the report said. “While the average fell from 150 per 100,000 aged under-75 to 130 per 100,000, the rate in the most deprived areas barely changed at all. The rate of cancer mortality is now 50 per cent higher in the most deprived areas.”

Nearly 220,000 Scottish children are living in poverty, compared with 320,000 a decade ago, bringing the percentage below England’s.

“The fall in child poverty in the most recent year may seem surprising, coming during a period of high unemployment. In fact, the reason why child poverty fell across the UK in 2010/2011 was because the median income, against which it is measured, had itself fallen.

“In the UK, median income fell from £373 to £358, after taking account of inflation and housing costs. In Scotland, the fall was from £393 to £370. Any fall in poverty under such circumstances is limited cause for celebration,” said the foundation.

Pensioner poverty dropped substantially, too, from 230,000 to 120,000. The number of low-income, childless couples depending on state benefits to top up their wages rose from 125,000 to 150,000. “Among those with children there was no change in the number living in low-income, working families (the figure remained at around 130,000), and a fall in the number living in low-income, workless families from 120,000 to 90,000,” said the report.

Rise in unemployment

More than 200,000 people are unemployed in Scotland, a rise of 90,000 – or 80 per cent – since the low point of mid-2008, with half of the number coming from under- 25s.

“With the onset of the recession in 2008, unemployment rose for all age groups. Since 2010 the only subsequent rise in unemployment has been among young people,” said the foundation.

The charity warned that social welfare changes due to come into force this year will see 60,000 Scots currently on disability benefits losing some or all of their payments.