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Rise in vulnerable women dying early in north-east England, report finds

Charity identifies ‘triple shock’ of Covid, austerity and cost of living as premature deaths increase

A growing number of disadvantaged and vulnerable women living in one of the poorest parts of England are dying prematurely because public services are not meeting their needs, according to a report.

Research published on Monday calculates that in 2021, a woman in the north-east of England was 1.7 times more likely to die early as a result of suicide, addiction or domestic murder than women living in England and Wales as a whole.

Between 2018 and 2021, such deaths increased by 15% in the north-east, the report says.

Women with complicated needs are dying early because they are seen as a “nuisance to the system”, campaigners warn.

Changing Lives, a charity working with women at risk in the north-east and nationally, has calculated that the average age of women who are known to have died while accessing its services is 37, compared with 47 before 2020.

Research for the report was conducted in Northumberland and Tyne and Wear, and involved data analysis, survey responses, focus groups and in-depth interviews.

Laura McIntyre, the head of women and children’s services at Changing Lives, described the report as shocking. “But I’m more saddened,” she said. “To not reach your 40th birthday is just not right.”

The report says the reasons for early and avoidable deaths are complicated, involving a patchwork of unaddressed issues including domestic abuse, debt, poverty, mental and physical ill-health, alcohol and substance misuse, and housing problems.

But the conclusions are striking. “Put plainly, women living in the north-east are more likely to live shorter lives, to spend a larger proportion of time living in poor health and to die prematurely from preventable diseases,” the report states.

It identifies a “triple shock” to multiple services in the region of austerity, the pandemic and the cost of living crisis.

Many women in the north-east, who can be most acutely in need of help, cannot access stretched mental health services because they have not shown that they have stopped drinking or taking drugs, the report says.

It identifies a huge discrepancy between the supply of and demand for mental health services in the north-east in 2021-22, with 81% of women who needed support not receiving it.

McIntyre said: “Time and again, we hear the same things, that women didn’t engage or they turned up being aggressive or turned up being difficult.

“We have to start being different. We have to start looking beyond the behaviour and work out what’s going on … women are dying because they are seen as a nuisance to the system.

“We have mental health services saying we can’t properly treat mental health issues because the main presenting issue is drug abuse and, until that’s sorted, we can’t look at what is going on emotionally. It’s back to front, isn’t it?”

The report, Dismantling Disadvantage, was published by Changing Lives and the women’s rights charity Agenda Alliance.

Indy Cross, the 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.

“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.”

The impact of the cost of living crisis is demonstrated by a survey of women with multiple unmet needs, of whom 62% said they were skipping meals and had stopped buying essentials, 43% said they used food banks and 45% said they went somewhere outside their home to keep warm.

The report also identifies a rising number of children being removed from the care of their mothers. At 26%, the north-east has the highest poverty rate of all regions in England.

The report’s recommendations include the formation of a taskforce to help create a national strategy for people with multiple unmet needs.

Source: The Guardian