The UK’s inequalities have been laid bare by new statistics that show wealthier British boys born today will live 13.5 years longer than their impoverished male peers. Meanwhile, a government-ordered report shows that low-income families are scrabbling to find more than £1bn to pay heating bills.
Data from the Office for National Statistics showed that between 2004-2006 and 2008-2010 the gap in life expectancy at birth between Kensington and Chelsea and Glasgow increased from 12.5 to 13.5 years for males and from 10.1 to 11.8 years for females.
This meant boys born in Glasgow between 2008 and 2010 could expect to live until 71.6 years. Girls born in the city at the same time had a life expectancy of 78 years.
The ONS said this suggested “that health inequalities across the UK are increasing”. Danny Dorling, a demographer at the University of Sheffield, said that the rich were pulling away from the poor – with the wealthy concentrating themselves in parts of London.
“House prices are going up rapidly in places like Kensington and Chelsea. They do not have the same health problems and can afford food and have no problem paying fuel bills. They are not touched by the recession.”
The government has been nervous about the rise in energy bills, which have almost doubled as a share of median income since 2004. David Cameron and Ed Miliband have both raised the issue with the electorate.
John Hills, professor of social policy at the London School of Economics, was asked by the government to look at fuel poverty.
He said the human cost was high – fuel poverty claims 2,700 lives every winter, a higher toll than the number who die in road accidents in England.
However, in a landmark report out on Wednesday, he found that the current measure was “unsatisfactory” to describe the scale and depth of the current crisis.
At present, households are in fuel poverty if they must spend at least 10% of annual income on energy to meet minimum standards of warmth. On this measure 4m homes are in poverty – up from a million in 2003.
However, Hills said that this was not likely to have happened – and instead pointed out that by his calculations the number of households in fuel poverty had dropped by 300,000 in 13 years to 2.7m in 2009. What had changed was the “depth of the problem”.
He said that the national fuel poverty gap, the difference between the required cost of bills and what people could afford, had risen from £729m to £1.1bn in the five years to 2009.
“The real measure is that for poor households [fuel] costs have gone up from £234 a year to £404 a year. That is not an insignificant amount of money for these households,” he said.