The life expectancy gap between the most affluent and the most deprived parts of the city of Leeds is ten years and growing, new figures show.
Despite the financial boom and growth seen in the city centre, the residents of the communities that look over the heart of the city’s skyscrapers are dying earlier than those in other areas, according to the statistics.
In this latest installment from the Yorkshire Evening Post’s Divided City social inequality series, Emma Ryan looks at health and how the picture differs across the city.
It comes a week after the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson claimed that Leeds could solve social inequality within ten years.
Health documents for the city that have been sourced from GP registers show that the top five deprived wards in Leeds - Gipton and Harehills; Burmantofts and Richmond Hill; Hunslet and Riverside; Killingbeck and Seacroft and Middleton Park all rate “significantly above” the rest of Leeds for smoking, obesity, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and chronic heart disease.
Cancer and smoking rates
However, the five most affluent wards Harewood; Wetherby; Adel and Wharfedale; Guiseley and Rawdon and Horsforth are all considered to be “significantly below” the Leeds average for all these conditions.
For example, according to figures provided to Leeds City Council by the city’s GPs, the number of smokers in Gipton/Harehills is 24,951 and in Harewood the figure is way below half of that at 9,403.
Read More: How are 170,000 people in Leeds living in poverty?
Taking Hunslet and Riverside, statistics for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease are that 5190 people have symptoms of this compared to 1046 in Adel and Wharfedale.
However, in Pudsey, a ward that falls in the middle of the council’s most affluent to most deprived scale, smoking figures are 17,019 and COPD 2,650, putting it at significantly below and no different to the Leeds average respectively.
Life expectancy gap grows
Coun Rebecca Charlwood represents the Moortown ward and is the chair of Leeds Health and Wellbeing Board as well as the cabinet member for Public Health and Adult Social Care.
She spoke to the Yorkshire Evening Post as it continues its City Divided series which looks at social inequality across Leeds.
Coun Charlwood said: “We know there is a ten year age gap and that is growing between the poorest and most affluent areas.
“Smoking, obesity, diabetes, lifestyle - it is clear in our deprived areas that these factors are helping cause the health inequality gap that we can see.
“Health is a big part of the inequality agenda, health inequality is hugely important in tackling inequality. We have been working on it for years and has been the centre of policy and strategy for three or four years.”
The council and partners set about a health and well-being policy in 2016 that the councillor says will “ improve the health of the poorest, the fastest” by looking at factors such as child health, social care, housing and the economy.
One of the things it did was look at each ward and the health conditions that are prevalent in each one and revealed some interesting patterns.
While the five wards mentioned above that are classed as the most deprived rated badly for smoking, obesity, diabetes, COPD and CPH, Gipton and Harehills and Hunslet and Riverside were well below the Leeds average for cancer - as was Armley which is listed as the sixth most deprived ward.
On the contrary, three out of the five affluent wards (Harewood; Adel and Wharfedale and Guiseley and Rawdon) were all “significantly above” the Leeds average for cancer figures.
Indeed, the figures show there are almost 1,000 less cancer patients in the Gipton ward with numbers at 3,472 compared to 4,438 in Harewood and 3,531 in Hunslet/Riverside compared to 4,571 in Adel and Wharfedale. In Pudsey the figure is 4,161.
Coun Charlwood explains: “It has been really interesting. In places like Harewood where you have a longer life expectancy, you get higher rates of cancer.
While we are seeing people get older - perhaps have had cancer, get cured and get ill again but their life expectancy is longer.
“But the more deprived areas like Beeston, Harehills, Middleton, Armley we are seeing greater levels of mortality in under 75s from all sorts of conditions including cancer. Other areas have COPD - that is quite an interesting one. That is poorer areas and linked to lifestyle.”
Those lifestyle issues she added are linked to mental health which is a condition that the city is seeing more and more of. As a mental health worker whose career started in Crossgates she has always seen that mental health conditions are exacerbated by poverty and different lifestyles and that is related to alcohol and substance misuse
“Deprivation and mental health issues - we are finding common ground in health conditions for 25 per cent of the population. When you get to more severe mental health conditions, that is just two per cent of the population - if you live in a deprived area that is more likely to be diagnosed - that is one interesting and stark statistic.
“Somebody that has a mental health problem, they have probably got a substance misuse problem, poor housing, damp and the children, what’s their diet like? That can be missed when you are dealing with one issue.”
SInce 2016, Leeds City Council and its Public Health department has been looking at ‘coalitions’ between the authority, medical services and the voluntary sector in a bid to try and tackle the gulf.
A community health development and information service, known as Better Together, has been working in the heart of the communities that need it the most, while in Richmond Hill, for example, sessions have been held in the local school on cooking healthily on a budget to tackling isolation for local women.
Earlier this year, Leeds was named as the only city in the UK to see a decrease in childhood obesity.
Over four years, obesity in deprived areas has dropped from 11.5 per cent to 10.5 per cent and the trajectory is steadily downwards. Among the more affluent families, there was also a decline from 6.8 per cent to 6 per cent. Overall the drop was from 9.4per cent to 8.8per cent.
Leeds puts some of that success down to retaining Children’s Centres when other parts of the country have closed theirs due to budget cuts.
Coun Charlwood said: “We are seeing something really tangible there. We are convinced that (children’s centres) is the right approach, regardless of how much money we have got.”
Another example is Feel Good Factor, a health and well-being centre based in Chapeltown provides projects and services to improve access to health opportunities for some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged.
Esther Bissell, a community well-being worker shares the story of Andrew.
She said: “Andrew has support needs, he is receiving support around drug addictions and mental ill health through his housing support worker. He is looking to make a new set of friends and meet ‘good people’.
“Having broken ties with old friendships, he would benefit from a new friendship group. His family are supportive, however, live in another part of Leeds and as he does not drive and finds the bus difficult to travel on due to anxiety he can at times feel isolated.
“The budgeting course helped Andrew learn ways of saving money but importantly look at why he was wanting to spend in the first place. We found this was tied in with the isolation he felt and wanting to boost his mood.
“We could then look at other ways he could get the same emotional boost, without spending money. The Men’s Club provided a positive and safe space for Andrew. He enjoyed the activities he participated in and enjoyed the interaction. He is also learning skills, such as bushcraft as well as improving physical activity levels. He has an avid interest in computing and we are exploring the possibility of volunteering on Modern Living Project also.”
In tackling the cancer crisis the authority is liaising with Yorkshire Cancer Research to take screening into the communities where people may not be accessing medical services in a £2m project.
Cervical and breast cancer cases in Leeds are not being picked up and treated as early as they could be while there are high levels of lung cancer.
Coun Charlwood said: “It is for low uptake screening areas and deprived parts of the city where we know people don’t go. This is not just for a ward or area but local people in that area that don’t go for screening.
“It is not just that anyone can go. GPs in that area have gone through their lists and found a demographic based on age, weight, smoking and invited them to go. They are then picking up on COPD and other issues and stopping smoking.”
The trend for smoking, as is likely to happen with COPD, is changing due to a generation and culture shift.
She added: “There was a step change and it is going down. The highest rate is Middleton. While the step change happens the health effects of the people that were smoking are still being seen today.
“We are not saying you should be doing this or that. People don’t respond to these messages but it is our duty to help educate and offer services if people want it.”