The government has set a great and bold ambition – ‘for everyone to have five extra years of healthy, independent life by 2035 and to narrow the gap between the richest and poorest’.
These are great goals so that we can all enjoy our longer lives in good health. This ‘Extra Time’ we have been gifted can benefit our lives and well-being if it is lived in good enough health.
Improving the health of our society needs to become a national objective, owned and driven in all places, by charities, businesses and the public, as well as government. Improving the health of all groups in our society, especially poorer people and places, is vital.
Why this matters
We are living much longer, a marvellous gift which many already enjoy; but millions of people, from all social groups, become prematurely ill with avoidable illnesses, which can degrade the benefits of longer lives. Recently, it was discovered that women on average get their first significant long-term illness when they are only 55 years old and so will live with ill-health for nearly 50% longer than we thought.
Preventable poor health affects every place and every social group, but it is worst for poorest people and places; in these places, women get their first significant long-term illness when they are only 47 years old and live in ill-health much longer than in the richest areas. Preventable poor health weakens our economy; if we were healthier, more people would stay in work to help grow it. Poor national health has high economic and fiscal costs.
The number of major illnesses suffered by older people will increase by 85% between 2015 and 2035. Premature poor health will greatly increase demand and cost for the NHS and social care. Older people in the poorest areas have 35% more spent on them by the NHS than older people in the richest areas. Becoming ill early in our lives makes it more likely we will develop multiple long-term conditions and this will increase demand for social care.
Change is possible
Our own society and other countries have shown that it is possible to reduce the incidence of premature ill-health. We made great progress to reduce smoking and strokes. We know where to start – we could prevent up to 75% of new cases of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes, 40% of cancer incidence and reduce dementia risks if we cut smoking, unhealthy diet, harmful consumption of alcohol and insufficient physical activity.
Reducing these, whilst not the only action, must be a central part of a drive to improve our national health. We know more about how to reduce them; information alone does not do so, but influencing social and market pressures can, by offering easy, healthier choices. We must stop being timid or ideological about this.
To learn more, click here to read the full report by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Longevity