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Press release

The King's Fund responds to the latest ONS life expectancy data

Commenting on the latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) data on life expectancy in the UK, Veena Raleigh, Senior Fellow at The King’s Fund, said:

‘Today's data from the ONS lays bare the impact that the Covid-19 pandemic has had on life expectancy in the UK. It shows that life expectancy at birth fell by about half a year between 2019 and 2022 – from 79.5 to 79 years in males and from 83.2 to 82.8 years in females – slashing life expectancy to the level of a decade ago. [1] 

‘Although life expectancy has recovered somewhat since the sharp fall in 2020 when the pandemic began, 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 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. [2]

'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. [3]

‘Much of the heavy burden of sickness and death in the UK is caused by preventable conditions, such as heart disease, stroke, lung cancer and diabetes. Worryingly, mortality rates from heart disease and diabetes have been rising during the pandemic. This load of preventable sickness and death falls unequally, hitting deprived communities the hardest. But it doesn’t have to be this way.  

‘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.’   

Notes to editors

  1. Period life expectancy is a measure of the average number of years people will live beyond their current age, based on current mortality rates. ONS has published data on life expectancy at birth and by age and sex. 

  2. The US has historically had lower life expectancy than the UK and other high-income countries and in recent years has had exceptionally high mortality rates from drug use, alcohol, suicide and other external causes. 

  3. Some countries (eg Scandinavian) that had falling or minimal increases in mortality during the early phase of the pandemic experienced a rise in 2021 and/or 2022. Heatwaves during the European summer, flu during the winter season and an unusually high incidence of respiratory disease contributed to excess mortality in 2022 in some countries (eg Spain, France, Germany). 

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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.

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