Intended for healthcare professionals


Stalling life expectancy in the UK

BMJ 2018; 362 doi: (Published 27 September 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;362:k4050
  1. Veena S Raleigh, senior fellow
  1. King’s Fund, London, UK
  1. v.raleigh{at}

We must look at austerity and beyond for underlying causes

The stalling of improvements in life expectancy in the UK since 2011, highlighted again in the most recent data,1 has prompted much comment and speculation about the causes. Longevity is the ultimate measure of health, and the flatlining of life expectancy after decades of steady improvement has unsurprisingly led to calls for action.2 The Department of Health and Social Care has belatedly commissioned a review by Public Health England (PHE).

The negative effect of post-2008 “austerity” on health, social care, and other public spending is cited as a potential cause in studies examining temporal associations between mortality trends and markers of NHS performance and public spending.34567 Other features of this complex mortality story also warrant consideration, including the parallels with what’s happening elsewhere.

International parallels

Several high income countries have seen a slowdown in longevity improvements since 2010.89 As in the UK, the slowdown is greater at older ages, especially among women, and is driven by some similar causes of death (although the contribution of opioids to falling life …

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