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WE LIVE in an ageing society. This is why, we are told, workers must fork out for their own care in old age, retire later and make larger pension contributions to get smaller payments.
Rising life expectancy has been used to make the case for working ever longer. But the trouble is, it’s now falling. National Records of Scotland (NRS) showed a fall of 0.1 years for both men and women’s life expectancy last autumn — to 77 for males, and to 81.1 for females.
New figures yesterday, meanwhile, demonstrated that it’s an issue of class. A landmark report from the Scottish Public Health Observatory (SPHO) showed that death rates worsened by 2.1 per cent in the most deprived males, and by 0.7 per cent in females of the same category between 2012-17.
In contrast, during the same period, mortality rates fell among the most well-off males by 4.4 per cent and by 7.8 per cent for females.
A huge wealth gap in life expectancy is a grim reality across Britain — but a widening gap marks a crowning disgrace.
The west of Scotland has long been famous for the poor health of its residents. One in four men in Glasgow will die before they’re 65.
The phenomenon has become known as the “Glasgow effect,” on account of the fact epidemiologists believe it can’t be credited to material poverty alone. But many of the other factors they cite, such as religious sectarianism, high levels of derelict land, adverse childhood experiences, stress and social alienation are class issues too.
And wealthier and better educated people are more likely to be able to mitigate environmental factors — such as Scotland’s soft water (which can cause calcium and magnesium deficiency) and lack of sunlight (vitamin D deficiency).
Scottish Labour’s Monica Lennon is right to argue that the latest figures “underline the urgent need to invest in communities across Scotland with the goal of eradicating poverty and health inequality.” It is appalling that Scotland’s NHS continues to face huge delays in patient discharge, and is missing the performance targets the SNP government — perhaps unwisely, but ultimately rightly — said we should judge it by.
But let’s not leave it at that. Let’s also ask, next time we’re hearing we have to work longer and retire later and poorer, if the very people spreading this message aren’t a bit too relaxed about the growing class mortality gap. The wealthy, after all, are far more equipped to afford timely — if not early — retirement — and those who deserve a rest more than anyone are facing shorter lives as pensioners.
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