Drop in healthy life expectancy for babies born in 2020-22

The number of years of good health a newborn baby in England can expect to enjoy has fallen, figures suggest.

Average healthy life expectancy for a child born between 2020 and 2022 is estimated to be 62.4 years for males and 62.7 for females, down from 63.3 and 63.7 years respectively for births in 2017-19.

The drop means the healthy life expectancy of a boy born in 2020-22 is 9.3 months lower than it was in 2011-13 when the current estimates began, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) which published the data.

SOCIAL LifeExpectancy
(PA Graphics)

Females have seen an even bigger fall since 2011-13, of 14.0 months.

“Because minimal change was seen up to 2017 to 2019, it is likely the coronavirus pandemic contributed to the decrease,” the ONS said.

Figures published in January for overall life expectancy showed a similar picture, with a boy born in the UK between 2020 and 2022 expected to live until they were 78.6 years old, down from 79.3 years in 2017-19, while a girl born in 2020-22 was expected to live for 82.6 years, down from 83.0 years.

The pandemic led to increased mortality in 2020 and 2021, which affected the estimates of a newborn baby’s total life expectancy, as well as the number of years they are likely to enjoy good health.

But this does not mean a baby born in this period will necessarily have a shorter life, or spend less time in good health.

This is because life expectancy estimates would go back up if mortality rates improve through the years, the ONS added.

The new figures published on Tuesday also show a drop in healthy life expectancy for babies in Wales, with females born in 2020-22 likely to enjoy 60.3 years of good health, down from 62.3 years in 2017-19, while males have seen a smaller fall from 61.3 to 61.1.

In Northern Ireland the estimates for females have decreased from 62.2 years in 2017-19 to 61.5 in 2020-22, while the estimates for boys have risen slightly from 61.3 years to 61.6.

There are sharp regional variations in healthy life expectancy, with the figures for males born in 2020-22 ranging from 64.6 years in south-east England to 57.6 in north-east England: a gap of seven years.

This is up from a gap of just under six years between the same two regions in 2017-19.

For females, the estimates for 2020-22 range from a high of 64.7 years for babies born in the South East to a low of 59.0 years for the North East – a difference of just over five-and-a-half years, compared with nearly seven years in 2017-19.

Dr Aideen Young, of the campaign group Centre for Ageing Better, said the figures showed there is a “shameful gulf in the experiences of growing older in this country depending on where you live”.

She continued: “For older people desperately struggling to make ends meet in later life, their experience and their outcomes in later life are a world away from their wealthier peers.

“Of course the Covid-19 pandemic has had a dramatic impact on the general health of our country and its population. But it doesn’t account for all the negative trends we are seeing here.

“Without drastic action, we will continue to have two ageing populations in this country living parallel and incomparable lives.

“We need a Commissioner for Older People and Ageing for England to give voice to the many older people who are currently marginalised and ignored, and ensure that the issues that affect them are considered in policy-making across government.”

A Department for Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We are committed to increasing healthy life expectancy by five years by 2035, and narrowing the gap between areas where it is highest and lowest by 2030.

“Our ambitious plans for a smoke-free generation will make a significant difference, as people in more deprived areas are almost twice as likely to die for smoking-related conditions.

“In addition to this, our Major Conditions Strategy will explore how we can tackle the key drivers of ill health in England to improve health and life expectancy across the country.”