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Sentamu slams 'life expectancy gap'

The Archbishop of York has described gaps in life expectancy between rich and poor in Britain as a "human rights abuse" as he warned against a "smug" attitude to images of inequality in Brazil in the run-up to the World Cup.

John Sentamu said classic pictures of "haves and have nots" in Brazil shown in advance of the World Cup - with contrasting images of "gorgeous" beaches and hotels in Rio de Janeiro and poverty-stricken favelas - should not leave people feeling smug in Britain.

He said p overty, poor education, unemployment, high crime levels and isolation affected towns, cities, villages and the countryside in Britain and the rest of the European Union.

Britain needs to tackle health and income inequality, youth unemployment and relatively low levels of happiness in children compared with other countries, he told the international fairness conference meeting in York.

He singled out gaps in life expectancy between richest and poorest neighbourhoods saying that this was "perhaps the biggest human rights abuse" in rich developed countries - worse, perhaps than a similar period of detention without trial.

"Within almost all British cities there are differences in life expectancy between the richest and poorest neighbourhoods of anywhere from five to 12 years," he said.

Dr Sentamu, the second most senior cleric in the Church of England, said he believed a large part of the difference in life expectancies was due to "psycho social" factors such as social status and experiences in early childhood.

"As a nation we need to protect the principles of (Aneurin) Bevan that allow each man, woman and child access to health care whenever they need it," he said.

"But we also need to work hard on building safe and caring communities in which people can flourish."

He added that income inequality seemed to make societies "more anti-social".

"By increasing social status differences - and social distances - greater inequality increases all the problems associated with social status - drugs, violence, poor educational performance, teenage births," he said.

"Greater income inequality has so many damaging effects because it amplifies and strengthens all the ways in which social class imprints itself on us throughout life."

If we want a happier and less divided society, he said, than reducing the scale of income differences between rich and poor would be an "important step forward", he said.

Dr Sentamu's address comes after he spoke in November of his shock at reading of a rise in hospital admissions for malnutrition and food poverty within his own diocese, a phenomenon he described as "a dark stain on our consciences".

He said the need for Church action was now more urgent than ever as "hard-pressed" people found they were on a "down escalator" in life.

Dr Sentamu is currently chair of the Living Wage Commission which is examining the case for introducing a "Living Wage" of £8.80 in London and £7.65 outside the capital. The commission is due to report later this month.

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