I'm afraid that the latest ONS statistics on health inequality are simply wrong

This is a point that I've made before here and it's no doubt one that I'll have to make again. The ONS statistics on health care inequality, deprivation and lifespans are simply wrong. Yes, I'm certain that they've been accurately collected, that the usual skill and excellence has been used in their presentation. And yet they are indeed wrong for they are not a representation of what it is that they are purporting to be measuring.

Children growing up in the richest areas of Britain can expect to live a full, active life for as much as 20 years longer than their counterparts in the poorest neighbourhoods, an official analysis shows. A generation of young people living in the most deprived areas are likely to see their health effectively broken 15 years before they even reach pension age, it warns. Those from more well-off backgrounds are forecast not only to live longer overall but to enjoy good health for a much larger proportion of their lives. Although it has long been recognised that there is gap between rich and poor in terms of life expectancy, the divide is more than twice as wide when viewed through health expectations. According to the Office for National Statistics, men from the most deprived 10 per cent of the population have an average life expectancy of just 73.4 years, compared with 82.7 years on average for those in the least deprived 10 per cent – a gap of more than nine years.

The full report is available here.

There are two major and two minor problems with the approach being used here. The first major one is that no one at all is measuring the lifespans of those born into or growing up in any area. What is being measured is the age at death of people in a particular area. And, as you might have noted from your own lives there's not all that many of us who actually die in the area of our birth or childhood. Certainly not at the level of detail that these figures use: the information is collected from 30,000 or so areas, or some 2,000 people in each. I would lay pretty good odds that the vast majority of this country moves more than a couple of streets over their lifetimes. Which means that we might well be measuring something interesting: perhaps the way in which the rich, those with likely longer lifespans as we know, move into less deprived areas over their lifetime as they, well, as they become rich.

This leads onto our second major problem: the way that these figures are interpreted is that it is the inequality and deprivation which leads to the health and lifespan inequality. But we know absolutely that while this could be, probably is, true in part, we also know absolutely that it is not true in whole. For health inequality will also lead to wealth and income inequality. That poor sod permanently laid off sick at the age of 40 just isn't going to become one of the financial grandees of the country living in a pile in some undeprived area. So some part (an unknown part) of the inequality that we note will have a reverse causation to the one being assumed. Even assuming that inequality (to say nothing of deprivation) causes lifespan inequality, we also know that health inequality will cause income inequality.

One minor problem is the level at which this information is collected. When we're looking at groups of 2,000 people we really are looking in much too much detail. You'd only need a decently sized old agers home in such a district to rather sway the figures. I can point you to a couple of streets in the centre of Bath with an age profile wildly higher than that of the town or the SW in total. Because they happen to be the couple of streets where a long running (and very good indeed) charity run sheltered accomodation for old folks of the town. And this then brings us on to our second minor problem. The poverty rate (a useful synonym for the deprivation rate) is lower for the old these days than it is for the general population. Thus we would expect an area with lots of old folks to have a lower deprivation rate than one without.

These figures will, as with the earlier ones from the Marmot Report, end up being used to argue that deprivation and inequality kill therefore we must have more redistribution. You can hear the pencils being sharpened for the compsing of the tirades already. But this simply isn't what the figures are telling us because they simply are not measuring what it is assumed that they are.

No one at all is measuring the life spans of people born and or brought up in different locations. They are measuring the age at death of people in those areas, an entirely and completely different thing.