Bishop slams England's 'systemic inequality' as research shows fatal north-south divide

The Bishop of Liverpool has condemned the 'systematic inequality' that condemns people in the north of England to die much earlier than those in the south.  

Research published yesterday by the University of Manchester  uncovered the sharp north-south divide in deaths among young adults, the middle-aged and the elderly across England.

Rt Rev Paul Bayes said he was 'disturbed by these statistics but frankly not surprised by them. There is a systemic inequality in our nation and the north is the victim of it, in life expectancy as in so much else.'

The research showed there were 49 per cent more fatalities among 35-44 year olds in the north in 2015, and 29 per cent more fatalities for those aged 25-34 in the same period.

The Angel of the North, Tyne and Wear, The North, England.Reuters

Dying early (before reaching age 75) is 20 per cent more likely in the north than in the south. A stark rise in premature deaths among the middle-aged in the north began in the 90s and has increased steadily since. Overall, from 1965-2015 there have been 1.2 million more early deaths in the north compared with the south.

Lead researcher behind the findings Professor Iain Buchan said: 'Five decades of death records tell a tale of two Englands, north and south, divided by resources and life expectancy – a profound inequality resistant to the public health interventions of successive governments.

'A new approach is required, one that must address the economic and social factors that underpin early deaths, especially in younger populations, and one that focuses on rebalancing the wider economy to help drive investment in northern towns and cities.

'The devolution of centralised powers may enable civic leaders to seed the economic growth to tackle this divide, but only if they are given the proportionate northern weighting of funds to do so.'

Bishop Bayes said: 'I am a person of faith and not a politician, economist or statistician. And I do not see these numbers as counters in a rhetorical game. They refer to our fellow human beings. They represent a sister, brother, partner, friend. They point to the grieving relative or the bereaved child. Untimely loss is more than a political argument. It is deeply personal and that is what should call us to respond more urgently.'

He added: 'Once again I must ask our Government to listen. We have, in Liverpool and across the northern region, talented and gifted politicians who care about creating better conditions for all. They must be given the resources to do so.

'As a Christian I believe in the love of God for all, and in justice for all. This is why I call on the Government to listen to the warning call contained in this report and to take action.​​'

The Bishop of Berwick, Mark Tanner, also commented on the findings, saying the report 'highlights an important issue for us as a nation. We in the north love this part of the country, and there are many signs of hope her. However, we continue to need to work together to end inequality and release the full God-given potential of everyone, young and old, in our country today.' 

The Manchester University paper was published in the British Medical Journal's Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, and can be read here.

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