How inclusive capitalism could reverse falling life expectancy

The news that life expectancy has fallen for the poor should cause us grave concern.

Given that falling life expectancy has its roots in in personal finances, we need to ask the question: can life expectancy regain these lost years through an injection of inclusive capitalism?

Some shocking statistics on how long we live

We funded the Longevity and Science Panel to analyse data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and found out:

  • People from the poorest fifth of the country are now about 80% more likely to die in a given year than those from the most well off
  • The life expectancy gap between England’s richest and poorest communities has grown over the past 14 years
  • Residents in former mining towns and isolated rural areas saw the biggest fall in longevity since 2001, while those in London and the southeast continued to see a rise in longevity
  • In Glasgow, life expectancy in some well-off suburbs is 82 years, while ten minutes’ drive away in poorer areas it’s just 54.
  • People in Hartlepool now live on average to 76.4, 12 months less than they did in 2001

These statistics show how unfair life in Britain has become. Greater investment outside southern England can help reverse the over-concentration of wealth in the southern England and improve longevity.

 Did capitalism originally contribute to people living longer?

In the second half of the last century, life expectancy rose significantly in the UK, helped in part by falling tobacco use and a reduction in people dying from cardio-vascular disease. The question is how much the capitalist system drove forward this improvement, through funding medical research and how much was due to the beneficial effects of the National Health Service and our world-class university system?

We now need inclusive capitalism to spread these gains more fairly

We are now seeing a definite slowing in the rate of improvement. Some factors which are likely to have caused this in the UK are increasing obesity and diabetes, the incidence of chronic respiratory diseases and more elderly people dying from Alzheimer’s and forms of dementia.

Over a quarter of the UK.’s population is obese, the worst in Western Europe and catching up fast with the US where this number has risen to a third in the last decade and a half. Diabetes and bowel cancer often follow obesity; and it’s equally well known that all of these conditions are preventable with better diet and exercise. Whether you blame people themselves or the big businesses that market fatty foods and high-sugar drinks, inclusive capitalism can step in to help.

What can responsible capitalism achieve?

Responsible capitalism can fund research into healthier alternatives, incentivising better lifestyles by marketing healthier foods and low-sugar drinks, varying insurance premiums based on lifestyle, incorporating gym memberships and step-counting apps into bundled product offerings, and so on.

Funding the development of pharmaceuticals and biosciences is a classic capitalist activity: it involves investing to back an idea, enlisting a team of experts, and taking risks. Medical science has never been as exciting as it is today, as we move from generic drugs which tackle symptoms, to individualised genomic therapies which prevent conditions from arising in the first place. There is a huge role for inclusive capital-backed technology, AI and digital apps in the management of chronic conditions such as diabetes, cognitive impairment or dementia. And while no one has yet convincingly tackled mental health, many are trying, for example through online Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and workplace-based applications

Investment in healthtech can drive down costs

Employing inclusive capitalism, we can also invest, privately or alongside governments, in backing primary healthcare that enables these benefits to be shared across a wider population. Prices for vital services need to come down if we are to bridge the life expectancy gap. And remarkably, this type of investment becomes a win-win for business and government, as well as for the population at large. While generating a return for companies, it also represents a potential saving for government that can consequently provide improved medical and/or social security benefits at a lower cost.

Bridging the gap between young and old

Better communications can help fill the gap between young and old by reducing loneliness, while social prescribing and activity-matching can improve well-being (recent research, perhaps predictably from Finland, even suggests saunas can hold back Alzheimer's). Here is another opportunity for care-tech entrepreneurs to deliver both social and economic value. We have created ever-faster ways to deliver pizza, but not elderly care, although many are trying in China and Japan. It is another way inclusive capitalism can address an area where we’ve only just scratched the surface.

In order to succeed, inclusive capitalism needs to reach all wealth groups, all ages, all cultural groups and all ethnicities.

 

This blog is based upon a blog from Nigel Wilson, Legal & General’s CEO, that first appeared on the Forbes website.

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