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News story

Life expectancy shortened by 26 years for children growing up in areas with the most serious literacy problems

15 Feb 2018

Life expectancy - Middlesbrough FINAL

We have today published the first research report to ever establish a link between literacy and life expectancy in England through health and socioeconomic factors. Literacy and life expectancy is the first in a series of reports that will be launched throughout our 25th anniversary year to establish why literacy is more important in 2018 than ever before.

To uncover the depth of the relationship between literacy and life expectancy, we conducted fresh analysis of ward level data which we developed with Experian on the communities at the greatest risk of serious literacy problems, and ward level life expectancy data from the ONS and Public Health England.

The research found that children born into communities with the most serious literacy challenges – who are more likely to live in deprived areas, do worse at school, be less financially well-off and have poorer health – have some of the lowest life expectancies in England.

What’s more, there is a staggering national gap in life expectancy between children from the areas with the most (decile 1) and least (decile 10) serious literacy challenges:

  • A boy born in Stockton Town Centre (decile 1 for literacy vulnerability) has a life expectancy 26.1 years shorter than a boy born in North Oxford (decile 10 for literacy vulnerability)
  • A girl born in Queensgate, Burnley (decile 1 for literacy vulnerability), has a life expectancy 20.9 years shorter than a girl born in Mayfield, Wealdon (decile 10 for literacy vulnerability)

Furthermore, the charity found inequalities between wards in the same local communities. In Middlesbrough, one of the most deprived areas in the country, a boy born in the ward of North Ormesby (decile 1 for literacy vulnerability) has a life expectancy of 71.4 years, which is 11.6 years shorter than a boy born just 2 miles away in Marton East (decile 8 for literacy vulnerability) who has a life expectancy of 83 years; the gap is 9.4 years for girls (76.5 years vs 85.9 years).

“If we are to truly transform the life chances of the nation’s most disadvantaged children, we must tackle low literacy one community at a time. The National Literacy Trust already runs long-term literacy campaigns in seven of the most deprived regions, cities and towns in the country, but today’s report shows that we still have a mountain to climb. We want to double our presence in local communities in our 25th year, and ensure that every child in England has the chance to live a happy, healthy, successful and long life, regardless of their background.”

Jonathan Douglas, Director of the National Literacy Trust
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