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Press release

The pandemic has further opened up deep health inequalities: The King’s Fund responds to new life expectancy data for 2020 from the Office for National Statistics (ONS)

Commenting on the 2020 life expectancy data released by the ONS today, Dr Veena Raleigh, Senior Fellow at The King’s Fund, said:

'These figures confirm that in 2020 life expectancy at birth in England and Wales fell by 1.2 years for males and 0.9 years for females compared with 2019. This is primarily a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, which caused almost 72,000 excess deaths compared with the 2015–19 average – the biggest fall in life expectancy since World War II and among the highest in Europe for that year.

‘But it’s important not just to focus on the pandemic – improvements in life expectancy had already slowed significantly in the decade before the pandemic, with deep and widening health inequalities between the richest and poorest areas. These inequalities have opened up further and are the widest in two decades. Gaps in life expectancy between local areas grew from 10 years in 2015–17 to 11.6 years in 2018–20 for males and from 7.8 years to 9.6 years for females.

'As the pandemic has continued into 2021 there have been a further 33,000 excess deaths to date. The pandemic isn't over and its direct and indirect effects will claim more lives in the future. Restoring life expectancy to pre-pandemic levels will be a steep mountain to climb and will depend significantly on the future course of the pandemic and reducing the gross health inequalities that continue to curtail prematurely the lives of the poorest in our society.’

Notes to editors

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The King's Fund is an independent charity working to improve health and care in England. We help to shape policy and practice through research and analysis; develop individuals, teams and organisations; promote understanding of the health and social care system; and bring people together to learn, share knowledge and debate. Our vision is that the best possible health and care is available to all.