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DYING QUIETLY: Exploring the Deaths that Go Unnoticed

In a new series, Natalie Bloomer and Samir Jeraj will explore why the number of people dying in the UK is on the rise.

In a new series, Natalie Bloomer and Samir Jeraj will explore why the number of people dying in the UK is on the rise.

If 20,000 people in the UK were killed in a natural disaster we would probably enter a period of national mourning and demand answers about how it was allowed to happen.

Yet, the mid-year population estimates from the Office for National Statistics show that there were 20,000 additional deaths in the year to mid-2018 from the year before. They didn’t occur all together in one dramatic incident, but individually and quietly in all different parts of the UK. This is the same amount as around half the number of civilians killed during the Blitz.

Deaths have increased among the elderly, newborn babies, young men and middle-aged women. In fact, almost all age groups have seen a rise.

Some might explain this as a blip or perhaps a bad year for flu but Professor Danny Dorling at University of Oxford, who has published numerous books on inequalities in Britain, says the additional deaths are part of a trend, not a one-off. He and other academics have been warning for several years that something significant is happening to mortality rates and life expectancy in the UK. 

In 2011, the rate of improvement to life expectancy began to flat-line in England and Wales and after 2014 it actually dropped and has failed to fully recover in the five years since. Perhaps most shockingly, 2015 saw the largest increase in deaths in the post-war period.

However, Professor David Goldblatt at UCL, says it is speculation that life expectancy is falling, stating it has “slowed down for men” and is “flat-lining” for women overall since 2011. This, he says, is a result of a number of factors since 2001. These include the age structure of the population – such as the relatively small number of very old people in the 2000s because of a low number of babies born nearly a century earlier; a rise in early deaths from drugs, alcohol and suicide; and the impact of austerity in the NHS and local government social care. Where life expectancy is falling, he says, is among women living in the most deprived parts of England and women living more generally in Scotland. But, Prof Goldblatt says that it is too early to tell if this is a trend or a one-off.

Despite how serious the issue is, there has been very little reaction from the Government. Outside of Westminster, however, others are taking notice.

Earlier this year, the insurer Legal & General, saw profits rise by more than a tenth. This followed record annual profits reported in 2018. A major reason is that people are now expected to die earlier than previously thought. It’s not just Legal & General that have noted the change. In 2017, the professional services network, PwC, suggested that £310 billion could be cut from the UK pension deficit due to changes in life expectancy. 

In the coming weeks, Byline Times will explore the rise in deaths among different age groups in various parts of the country. We will use statistics to guide our investigation and will look at the different possible causes.

Most importantly, we will speak to people to hear about the biggest issues impacting health and wellbeing in their communities, to explore those deaths quietly going unnoticed in Britain today.

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