UK life expectancy falls to lowest level in a decade

London: Life expectancy across the UK has fallen to its lowest level in a decade, mainly owing to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, data shows.

Boys born between 2020 and 2022 can expect to live to 78.6 years, a decrease of 38 weeks compared with the same measure between 2017 and 2019. For girls, the expectancy for the same period was 82.6 years, having also fallen by 23 weeks compared with 2017 and 2019.

This decrease in life expectancy means it has fallen to the levels seen a decade earlier between 2010 and 2012, where boys could expect to live for 78.7 years and girls 82.57 years.

The Office for National Statistics said the decrease was primarily owing to the impact of the pandemic, where excess deaths increased sharply.

Pamela Cobb, of the ONS, said: “After a decade of slowing life expectancy improvements, we’ve now seen life expectancy fall for both men and women. This decrease has been mainly driven by the coronavirus pandemic, which led to increased mortality in 2020 and 2021.”

She added that although life expectancy figures had fallen, this did not necessarily mean that a baby born since the pandemic would live a shorter life, because of changing mortality rates during their lifetime.

Veena Raleigh, senior fellow at The King’s Fund, said that the data was worrying and “lays bare the impact that the pandemic has had on life expectancy in the UK”.

She said: “Although life expectancy has recovered somewhat since the sharp fall in 2020 when the pandemic struck, it’s not had the bounce-back that might have been expected once the worst of the pandemic was over, pointing to deeper problems with the health of the nation and the resilience of the health care system.

“Although most countries globally experienced devastating death tolls from Covid-19, several studies have shown that excess mortality in the UK during the pandemic exceeded that of most comparable western European and other high-income countries.

“As the UK’s relatively high mortality during the pandemic came on the heels of stalling life expectancy in the pre-pandemic decade, the result is a further slide in the UK’s already poor ranking relative to comparable countries by 2022.”

Raleigh added that many deaths in the UK were because of preventable sicknesses, and that “improving life expectancy in the UK will require a coherent cross-government strategy that supports people to make healthy choices, identifies and treats illness earlier, and reduces health inequalities by improving the health of people in deprived communities”.