factorfiction2 Big life expectancy gap between rich & poor?

The claim
“In my own city of Sheffield, a child born today in the poorest neighbourhood in Sheffield will die a full – born today, 2010 – will on average die a full 14 year before a child born just up the road in the wealthiest neighbourhood. And that gap hasn’t shifted at all in the last decade.”
Nick Clegg, Liberal Democrat leader, Speech at Christ Church, New Malden, 18 April 2010

The background
Fairness. It’s the Lib Dems’ buzz word for this election. They want to build a fairer Britain. And just how unfair is Britain? Well, one of the examples the Lib Dem leader used yesterday morning was that a child born in a poorer area of Sheffield has a life expectancy 14 years lower than one in a neighbouring rich area.

It’s a familiar claim made by the Lib Dems – Sarah Teather used a similar statistic for her own constituency at the start of the party’s manifesto launch – and if true it would be shocking. But are Mr Clegg’s facts fair?

The analysis
The Liberal Democrats deferred to statistics from NHS Sheffields Health and Well-being Atlas. This gives details of life expectancy in neighbourhoods in Sheffield up to 2006.

According to this data, the lowest life expectancy for men and women across the whole of Sheffield between 2002-2006 was in Crookesmoor at 70.9 years, with the highest in Ecclesall at 88.8 years – a gap of 17.9 years.

So why does Mr Clegg refer to life expectancy gap of 14 years instead of the higher numbers of 17 or 18 to make his point?

Well, it may simply be that his numbers are a little out of date. The 2006 Sheffield Director of Public Health Report that the Liberal Democrats initially pointed FactCheck to cites the 14 year life expectancy gap.

From 1998-2002 the greatest gap was between the City Centre and Fulwood, and was indeed exactly 14 years. This is the smallest the gap has been during the time data is available for on the NHS Sheffield atlas.

Looking at the trend, the life expectancy gap fluctuations over the period, but within the limits of 14 years and 17.9 years. So, broadly speaking, the gap has remained roughly the same in the years from 1997-2006, which may correspond to the decade Mr Clegg referred to.

However, it’s worth noting that different neighbourhoods are at the limits of the gap in the different time periods, and life expectancy has increased in all but nine of the 90 neighbourhoods listed (in the nine areas, life expectancy fell between 0.1 years and 3.1 years).

If we have one minor quibble with Mr Clegg it is his stressed reference to 2010. The 2006 numbers are the latest statistics published by NHS Sheffield, and even the Office of National Statistics most recent data for the whole country only covers life expectancy up to 2008.

But then again, since the gap remained pretty constant in the previous years, Mr Clegg could fairly assume that this trend has continued.

The verdict
It seems that, although some of his details and timescales may be a little wayward, Mr Clegg’s comments are a fair representation of life expectancy in Sheffield.

The 14 year life expectancy gap quoted is out of date – referring to 1998-2002 figures rather than the 2010 Mr Clegg stressed – but the gap has since increased to 17.9 years, reinforcing Mr Clegg’s point.

UPDATE: NHS Sheffield have just released updated statistics for the Atlas for the years up to 2008. They also point out that the neighbourhoods with the lowest life expectancy is not necessarily the poorest, but one of the poorer areas. Likewise the area with the highest life expectancy is not necessarily the richest.

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Category: Fact, Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg
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