Report reveals rise in unnecessary deaths of women in North East

Too many women are dying from disadvantage in the North East of England, according to new research.

The report by Agenda Alliance and Changing Lives found that in 2021 a woman in the North East was 1.7 times more likely to die early as a result of suicide, addiction, or murder by a partner or family member than in the rest of England and Wales.

woman in gray long sleeve shirt sitting on window

Research involved 18 in-depth interviews, 47 survey responses, focus groups, data analysis and multiple meetings with affected women, practitioners and policy makers.

Arguably, the most striking finding in the study is that women are dying early, due at least in part to neglected social, economic and health needs, let down by multiple services.

Between 2018 and 2021 there was a 15% rise in the number of women in the North East who died by suicide, addiction or domestic homicide.

Changing Lives, a specialist charity working with women at risk in the North East and nationally, reported that the average age of women who are known to have died while accessing their services is currently just 37 years old. Before 2020 it was 47. The typical life expectancy of a woman born in the UK is 83.

The research found that the women dying faced a patchwork of unaddressed life-challenges such as domestic abuse, debts and poverty, mental ill-health and poor health generally, housing problems and substance misuse.

The reasons behind every early and avoidable death are complicated, but the new research highlights an underlying context of a ‘triple shock effect’ to services in the region: austerity, the Covid-19 pandemic and the escalating cost-of-living crisis.

A major concern spotlighted in the report is difficulties accessing mental health support for women at risk in the North East of England. Already stretched mental health services are barred to many women who need it because they are refused treatment due to drug or alcohol addiction.

Between 2021-22 in Northumberland and Tyne and Wear 81% of women (over 145,000) who needed mental health support did not get it.

The report includes a specific survey of disadvantaged women. This found:

Impact of cost of living:

  • 62% of the surveyed women report skipping meals and stopping buying essentials
  • 72% say their health and well-being is directly impacted by the cost-of-living crisis

Low literacy levels:

The average reading age in the North East and Yorkshire is 14 years old. The NHS pitches its information to people of a reading age of 16. Lower literacy and numeracy levels, combined with digital disadvantage, are preventing women with the greatest vulnerabilities from accessing health services, benefits and education. Among the same group of disadvantaged women surveyed:

  • 62% did not have educational qualifications beyond GCSEs. Six percent had no qualifications at all
  • 64% of women struggled to access benefits due to the paperwork involved

Meanwhile, a rising number of children being removed from their parents’ care (the North East has the highest rate of referrals to children’s social care in the country) is contributing to the complex challenges facing women who are mothers.

Indy Cross, chief executive of Agenda Alliance, said: ‘Again and again, public services are failing women in need in the North East. And the consequences are fatal.

‘It is unbelievable that in 2023 women in any part of the country are dying before they even reach their 40th birthday. If this doesn’t serve as a wake-up call to make levelling-up promises live up to reality, it’s hard to know what will.

‘In the wake of Covid-19, public services must do better. We need urgent action. Stop talking about women as ‘hard to reach’, listen to them, learn and provide the support and care they need. There is no time to waste, lives depend on it. Every woman’s life matters.’

Agenda Alliance called for urgent action to prioritise disadvantaged women in the levelling-up agenda, with a focus on revitalising public services which are fit for purpose, and for a governmental taskforce to tackle and end linked social, economic and health inequalities. It also said women affected by disadvantage should be included in shaping appropriate services, especially for mental health, domestic abuse and poverty, and that addiction should no longer be used as a barrier to mental health support.

Image: Anthony Tran


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