Victoria Ward, Telegraph, May 14, 2019
Deaths from suicide, drug and alcohol overdoses are rising among middle-aged Britons, the Institute of Fiscal Studies has warned as it launches a major five-year study into social inequality.
The think tank said the increase in such fatalities, dubbed “deaths of despair”, may be linked to a process of “cumulative disadvantage for less-educated people”.
Such deaths, which include drink-related liver disease, among 45-54-year-olds in England continued to rise between 1993 and 2017.
They are now higher than those caused by heart disease among women of that age group, and almost level-pegging with those among men, an IFS study found.
It said that deteriorating job prospects, social isolation and relationship breakdown “may slowly being taking their toll on people’s mental and physical health”.
“In the UK, this new trend has contributed to a small rise in middle-age mortality overall in the last few years, bringing to an end decades of continual improvement,” the report added.
Research suggests that rates of long-standing illness and disability among 25-54-year-olds have been increasing since at least 2013.
Income inequality is higher in the UK than any other major economy apart from the US, the IFS said.
However, inequality in total net household income has changed little since rising sharply in the 1980s.
The UK system of state transfers, especially tax credits, has been “very successful at mitigating rising inequality”, the report said.
It noted that around one in six children in the UK are born to single parents, a situation “heavily concentrated in low-income and low-educated families” and one that is much more prevalent than on the continent.
The gender hourly wage gap is strongly associated with childbirth and rises from less than 10 per cent at the point of childbirth to 30 per cent 12 years after the first child is born.
The study found stark geographical inequalities in the UK with average weekly earnings in London 66 per cent higher than those in the North East.
And men in the most affluent areas can expect to live nearly 10 years longer than those in the most deprived areas, and this gap is widening.
The study was released to mark the launch by the IFS of what it described as the most comprehensive scientific analysis of inequalities yet attempted.
The five-year study into the causes of inequality will be chaired by Nobel Laureate Professor Sir Angus Deaton and funded by the Nuffield Foundation.
Sir Angus says on Tuesday: “I think that people getting rich is a good thing, especially when it brings prosperity to others.
“But the other kind of getting rich, ‘taking’ rather than ‘making’, rent-seeking rather than creating, enriching the few at the expense of the many, taking the free out of free markets, is making a mockery of democracy. In that world, inequality and misery are intimate companions.”
Paul Johnson, IFS director, said: “I can’t think of anything more important than understanding what drives the inequalities we see today and working out what we might do to influence them.”
John McDonnell MP, Labour’s Shadow Chancellor, said: “Sir Angus is right to highlight the problems of stagnant wages and regional inequality as well as the importance of trade unions for addressing inequality.
“I congratulate the IFS on the launch of this important piece of research and look forward to studying its work.”
The “deaths of despair” phrase was coined by economists Anne Case and Sir Angus from Princeton University to describe the rising death rates among middle aged white people who struggle to find well-paid jobs.