Two years on from the Marmot Review Fair Society, Healthy Lives, new data show that health inequalities between the poor and the rich are continuing to grow, although there has been an improvement in life expectancy.

According to the data, from the Institute of Health Equity (formerly the Marmot Review Team) at University College London, while life expectancy was up 0.3 years overall in England between 2007-9 and 2008-10, among 150 local authorities inequalities also increased in the majority of areas (104 for men and 92 for women).

Overall life expectancy at birth in England is now 78.6 years in men and 82.6 years in women, but take a deeper look and the figures fluctuate widely. 

Life expectancy is highest in Kensington and Chelsea at 85.1 years and lowest in Blackpool at 73.6 years, while the wealthiest men living in Westminster can expect to live nearly 17 years longer than their poorer counterparts.

"Life expectancy continues to increase for most people, but inequalities in life expectancy persist between communities with different levels of deprivation," said the Institute's director Sir Michael Marmot. "The task therefore remains to improve the health for the majority of the population if we are to level the social gradient – this must be the focus for the Coalition Government if they are to reduce health inequalities," he stressed.

Marmot's 2010 report came as quite a shock as it revealed that health inequalities in England are costing the economy billions of pounds: generating lost taxes and higher welfare payouts of £20 billion - £32 billion a year, and extra annual costs to the National Health Service of more than £5.5 billion.

Health premium

One means by which the government is hoping to tackle the issue is to pay out £2.2 billion directly to health authorities for action to help their local communities stay as healthy as possible and reduce health inequalities. In addition, a future health premium will be paid to reward communities for the improvements in health outcomes and inequality.

"Every area of the country is different, so councils will be able to decide what the most important public health concern is for them and spend the money appropriately," health secretary Andrew Lansley said explaining the plans earlier this year.

However, in a recent Health Select Committee report MPs voiced concern over the idea of a health premium, as "targeting resources away from areas with the most significant continuing problems might undermine their ability to intervene effectively and thereby further widen health inequalities", they warn.