Running The Great North Run: because more equal societies work better for everyone

As the coordinator supporting the work of Newcastle’s Wellbeing for life Board (the statutory health and wellbeing board), I rarely go a day without thinking and talking about inequality and its impact.

But the occasion of my first Great North Run has given me the opportunity to raise awareness of inequality and the work of The Equality Trust in a more personal capacity.  However, I couldn’t resist turning to the all too familiar life expectancy data to see how it could help communicate the message.

The Great North Run – a half marathon – goes through three local authority areas, Newcastle (where I live and work), Gateshead and South Tyneside.

On the face of it, those living in these three local authorities have almost identical life expectancy.  Male life expectancy in Newcastle and in Gateshead is 76.4 years, whilst in South Tyneside it is 76.5 years.  All three compare unfavourably to the English average – 78.3 years.  But look a little closer, you’ll see there is quite a lot of variation just in 13.1 miles.

Female life expectancy shows a similar pattern.  The English average is 82.3 years with Newcastle averaging at 80.9 years, Gateshead at 80.8 years and South Tyneside at 80.7 years.  And again, there are differences along the route.

Sometimes people ask me whether differences in life expectancy matters – why do we focus on length of life, rather than quality of life?  But as Fair Society, Healthy Lives (The Marmot Review) highlighted, those with shorter lives have grown up coping with disadvantage and spend a greater proportion of that shorter life with an illness or disability.  A shorter life expectancy is an indicator of a poorer quality of life.  And that, to me, makes it an indicator of unfairness.

Helen Wilding is Wellbeing for Life Development Lead for Newcastle City Council.
With thanks to Val Corris and Martin Gollan for their help.