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Life expectancy falls in Scotland with Covid mostly to blame, figures show

Life expectancy in Scotland has fallen again for both males and females, figures from the National Records of Scotland show (Nicholas.T.Ansell/PA)
Life expectancy in Scotland has fallen again for both males and females, figures from the National Records of Scotland show (Nicholas.T.Ansell/PA)

Life expectancy in Scotland has fallen again, with the Covid-19 pandemic responsible for the “majority” of the decrease.

National Records of Scotland (NRS) said that drug deaths had also contributed to this latest drop.

It published figures which showed that babies born in Scotland over the period 2019 to 2021 will have a life expectancy of 76.6 years for males and 80.8 years for females.

For males that marks a reduction of over 11 weeks from the previous figures, which covered 2018 to 2020, while for females the fall is one of almost eight weeks.

Scotland continues to have the lowest life expectancy in the UK, NRS said.

Meanwhile, the difference in life expectancy for those living in deprived areas compared to those in more affluent communities is growing.

Scottish Conservative health spokesman Dr Sandesh Gulhane branded the figures “deeply alarming” – and said they “have the fingerprints of Nicola Sturgeon and Humza Yousaf all over them”.

Dr Gulhane said: “While Covid is a factor in the reduction of life expectancy all across the UK, the fact remains that it had already started falling in Scotland before the pandemic, and life expectancy is significantly lower here – where the SNP have been responsible for healthcare for 15 years – than in the rest of the UK.

“It’s tragic that, if you live in Scotland – and especially Glasgow – your life will be shorter and you’ll enjoy fewer years of good health than people in other parts of the UK.”

His comments came as the NRS report on life expectancy between 2019 to 2021 stated that the “majority of this fall is due to mortality from Covid-19”.

However, the report added: “There was also some contribution to the fall from increases in other causes of death, particularly drug-related deaths.”

Life expectancy in Scotland had increased between the early 1980s and the early 2010s, but then started to plateau over the period 2012 to 2014.

Over the period 2018 to 2020 Scotland had the sharpest fall in life expectancy for almost three decades.

Within Scotland, life expectancy was highest in Orkney Islands – where girls born between 2019 and 2021 can expect to live 83.8 years and boys born in the same period can expect to live to the age of 80.4.

However, in Glasgow City, the council area with the lowest life expectancy, this was 78 years for females and 72.9 years for males.

Male life expectancy in the most deprived parts of Scotland was 13.7 years lower than it is in the least deprived areas for 2019 to 2021.

For females the gap is lower at 10.5 years.

However, NRS noted: “Over the last few years this gap has widened.”

In 2013 to 2015, the life expectancy gap between the most and least deprived areas was 12.2 years for males and 8.6 years for females.

The latest figures showed that 25 of Scotland’s 32 council areas have seen male life expectancy decrease since 2012 to 2014 – with 21 council areas having seen a fall in life female life expectancy over the same period.

Comparing Scotland to the rest of the UK NRS said: “Scotland has the lowest life expectancy of all UK countries for both males and females.”

Data for the rest of the UK is only available up to the period 2018 to 2020 – at which point life expectancy for the UK as a whole was  82.9 years for females and 79.0 years for males.

“This is around two years higher than the equivalent figures for Scotland from the same year,” NRS said.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said the statistics “show the true state our country is in”, adding that the decrease in life expectancy “is the result of two public health crises the SNP have catastrophically mishandled”.

The Lib Dem said: “The devastation of Covid-19 was all the more potent after the Government made glaring errors, such as the putting of Covid positive patients into care homes, and failing to make sure that quarantine and contact tracing worked.

“Similarly, ministers cut budgets to drug services by 22%, sending organisations to the wall, severing support and leading to soaring deaths across Scotland.”

Public Health Minister Maree Todd said: “These statistics show the ongoing impact of Covid-19 and that the pandemic disproportionately affected our most deprived communities.”

Ms Todd added: “We are doing all we can to ensure everyone in Scotland can live a long and healthy life. The pandemic has taught us the importance of intervening to protect the health of the most vulnerable in our society.

“We are using all the powers currently at our disposal to address the cost-of-living crisis and to tackle poverty and inequality in Scotland. We have taken action to address these issues, such as investing almost £3 billion in a range of measures for households, supporting energy bills, as well as social security payments that are either not available anywhere else in the UK or are more generous, such as the Scottish Child Payment.

“We are committed to providing free school meals, increasing the number of hours of free childcare, investing in affordable housing and continue to deliver free prescriptions, concessionary travel and free personal care. However, the UK Government retains many of the key policy levers needed to address health inequalities.”