The health gap between the richest and poorest in Britain is now wider than it was during the great depression, according to researchers from Sheffield and Bristol Universities.
They say that the gap was gradually narrowing until the 1970s, when the trend reversed. Health inequality has grown rapidly in the last twenty years. This reflects a growth in economic inequality over a similar period.
The academics compared rates of early death between 1999 and 2007. They report that for every 100 deaths before the age of 65 in the richest areas, there were 212 in the poorest areas.
This compares to a ratio of only 191-100 in the years between 1921 and 1930, and of 185-100 between 1931 and 1939.
The 1920s and 30s are generally considered to have been Britain's hardest economic times during the twentieth century. The First World War from 1914-18 had a devastating effect on British economy and society. These problems were then exacerbated by the beginning of the great depression in 1929, which led to mass unemployment.
“Health and wealth are directly linked,” insisted researcher Danny Dorling, “Unless we tackle the income gap, we could well see life expectancy actually starting to fall for the first time in the poorest areas”.
Several of the candidates in the Labour Party leadership election have said that Labour should not have allowed economic inequality to increase during its thirteen years in office, which came to an end in May this year.
Campaigns for economic equality have gained momentum since the publication last year of the The Spirit Level. The book's authors, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, use detailed analysis to demonstrate lower levels of crime, unwanted pregnancy and other social problems in more equal societies. This perspective is now promoted by the Equality Trust.