Rising unemployment and increasing spatial health inequalities in England: further extension of the North–South divide

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BackgroundUnemployment negatively affects health. In this study, we quantify the impact of current and rising levels of unemployment on limiting long-term illness (LLTI), mental health problems and mortality in North and South England.MethodsExcess cases of LLTI and mental health problems in the unemployed were calculated as the difference in the prevalence between the employed and unemployed using data from large population surveys for England. Mortality due to unemployment was calculated using the formula for the population-attributable fraction.ResultsCurrent levels of unemployment were estimated to be causing 1145 deaths per year and a total of 221 020 cases of mental health problems and 275 409 cases of LLTI in England. Rates of mortality, mental health problems and LLTI due to unemployment were distinctively higher in the North compared with the South. Considering hidden unemployment in the calculations considerably increased the proportion of women suffering from ill health due to unemployment.ConclusionsOur study quantifies the detrimental effect of unemployment on health in England. There is a clear difference between North and South England highlighting the contribution of unemployment to spatial health inequalities. A public health priority should be to (i) prevent unemployment in the first place and (ii) provide support for the unemployed.

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