The UK now ranks 29th in a global chart of life expectancy, down from seventh place in 1952, according to new analysis.
Researchers warned that the UK was slipping down the global ranks, performing worse over the past seven decades than all G7 countries except the USA.
For the analysis, which was published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, academics from the University of Oxford and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine examined global life expectancy ratings from 1952 to 2021.
While life expectancy has risen in the UK since the start of the study, similar countries have had larger increases.
“While politicians invoke global factors, especially the effects of the pandemic and the invasion of Ukraine, the reality is that, as in the 1950s, the country suffers from major structural and institutional weaknesses,” said Professor Martin McKee, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
The researchers pointed out large rises in income inequalities in the UK during and after the 1980s. “That rise also saw an increase in the variation in life expectancy between different social groups,” Professor McKee said. “One reason why the overall increase in life expectancy has been so sluggish in the UK is that in recent years it has fallen for poorer groups.”
The UK recently became the second most economically unequal country in Europe after Bulgaria, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
“Perhaps we should not be surprised to see that inequality reflected in such wide health inequalities and a declining overall position,” Dr Lucinda Hiam, of the University of Oxford, said.
She added: “A relative worsening of population health is evidence that all is not well. It has historically been an early sign of severe political and economic problems.”
“This new analysis suggests that the problems the UK faces are deep-seated and raises serious questions about the path that this country is following,” she warned.
Dr Jonathan Filippon, senior lecturer in health systems and political economy of health at Queen Mary University of London, was not involved in the study. He said: “Poorer people die sooner throughout the world but the question that lingers is why social inequality gets worse here and on the other side of the pond simultaneously and over so many decades.
“Here, we do need to look at the predominant ideologies running at both nation states; the major liberal approach to nation states inaugurated by the duo Thatcher and Reagan had disastrous consequences to their population’s levels of equality.
“While markets can continue to thrive in countries — even during a crisis such as we’ve seen recently with the UK energy sector — they can also exacerbate inequalities as well.”