Risk of premature death and poor health higher in areas of low employment
(3 August 2012)
People living in areas of England with long-term low employment rates face a greater risk of premature death before the age of 75, according to new research from Durham University.
Information from a large national study of data from more than 200,000 citizens shows that for those living in parts of England with persistently low employment, risk of premature death may be up to 20 per cent higher than in areas with better long term employment rates.
The research by geographers based at Durham University’s Institute of Hazard, Risk and Resilience, with support from the University’s Wolfson Research Institute, also shows that residents of these areas are much more likely to report suffering long-term limiting illnesses (LLLIs) (such as arthritis, asthma, heart conditions or back problems *). For people in areas of long term low employment rates, the risk that they will report an LLLI is up to 70 per cent higher compared with those in areas with the best levels of employment.
The research analysed information from the Office for National Statistics Longitudinal Study (ONSLS) for 207,959citizens. The study took into account a range of individual factors, such as age, sex and mobility. The researchers compared populations in groups of areas, according to local levels of employment.
One group of areas (Group ‘H’ on the map) had seen persistently low levels of employment, showing the local labour market had been depressed over the long term. The researchers compared the people coming from these districts with people living in another set of areas, Group ‘A’, where employment levels had been persistently high, showing that the labour market was more buoyant.
The study doesn’t identify precise health estimates for individual districts, but the areas with persistently low employment include districts in different parts of northern and southern England, as shown on the map.
The map also shows areas (Group C) where employment levels have improved over time, from initially low levels. People in our sample coming from these improving areas had better health than those living where employment has remained low. This suggests that, over time, there may be health benefits to be gained from investments to boost local employment.
Researchers believe the findings, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, show the extent of health inequality in England and the challenges facing communities, health care professionals and policy makers at a time of economic hardship.
These challenges include improving job stability and community cohesion, providing more opportunities such as business assistance and flexible working, and raising overall living standards.
Co-author of the study, Professor Sarah Curtis, Institute of Hazard, Risk and Resilience, Durham University, said: “Employment rates affect local conditions that are important for the health of everyone in an area, not only workers who may be in or out of work.
“It is important to sustain efforts to create and support permanent jobs in areas with persistently low employment rates, not least because this is important for the health of the population.
“Investment in secure employment and healthy working conditions is likely to reduce costs to society in terms of health and social care provision, and welfare benefit payments.”
Co-author, Mylene Riva, Axe Santé des populations et environnementale Centre de Recherche du CHUQ,Université Laval, Québec, Canada, said: “Poor employment levels over a long period of time are reflected in health inequalities and people may become ‘trapped’ in disadvantaged areas from which they cannot afford to move.
“High long-term area employment rates are a catalyst for better individual health and have a positive effect on the health ofa community and an area as a whole.”
The authors believe that the research indicates the importance to health of regional policies, targeted employment initiatives and spending decisions that cut or boost opportunities in economically deprived areas.
Professor Sarah Curtis added: “Low employment and reports of poor health are connected and we need to look at how we can maintain and boost employment in areas with deep-seated deprivation.
“In Britain at present there is concern about evidence of growing inequality between groups of people. In our study we are sounding a note of caution about growing inequalities between areas of the country. There may be long term costs to health from policies that draw employment away from an area or withdraw resources from areas of need.”
*Note: A long term limiting illness (LLLI) is defined as any long-term illness, health problem or disability which limits someone's daily activities or the work they can do. The term may include:chronic arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, asthma and back problems.