Be wary of solutions to perceived falling lifespans

We’ve been known - ad tedium perhaps - to make the point that we must understand the details of a number, a statistic, to quite grasp what it is that we are being told. If we forget the original composition it’s all too easy to fall into error while trying to craft solutions.

An obvious example is the American poverty line - this is calculated before the effect of near all that is done to reduce poverty. It is not possible therefore to argue that we should be doing more of what is done in order to reduce the number below the poverty line. Simply because we’re not taking account of those things that are done.

A similar problem will face us with these new numbers from ONS showing life expectancy falling. Or growth in it slowing.

Life expectancy growth has stalled to a record low, but there are more male centenarians than ever before.

Figures published by the ONS show that life expectancy has stopped growing in the UK, and is even going backwards in some areas.

Between 2015 and 2017 life expectancy at birth remained at 79.2 years for men and 82.9 years for women, the first time that there was no improvement at all from the previous data.

In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, life expectancy fell, with the largest drop, of 0.11 years, seen for men in Wales.

If we were, and Heaven Forfend, to leap to making a political point we might mutter something about the less marketised NHS Wales and NHS Scotland being less effective at preventing death than the more marketised NHS England. And we’d be right, too, but political sneering isn’t quite our style.

The important point here, as we’ve also pointed out before, is that no one at all is even trying to measure how long people born today are going to live. They’re measuring the age of death of people born 70, 80 and 90 years ago. Which means that there’s an importance to the composition of these numbers.

We will, undoubtedly, be told again that it’s inequality, or selective schooling, or relative child poverty, or something to do with the kiddiewinks at least, which is causing this slow down in life expectancy. The usual claim is that those things cause all ills after all. The problem with this allocation of blame being that whatever the effects of these things on current death rates they’re the relative child poverty and so on of 65, 75 and 85 years ago, not those of today.

Whatever we do about children today, whatever is happening to children today, is going to influence deaths in near a century’s time. Well, assuming no Herod solution being offered.

So, when solutions are offered to deal with these changes in life expectancy remember that we can reject out of hand any of them at all which refer to current conditions for younger people. Given the manner in which the statistic is compiled they have no relevance at all to the point at hand. The influence is of past conditions upon those ageing now.