A group of Conservative politicians just told poor people it’s their fault they’re dying young

Theresa May looking nervous
Steve Topple

During a public council meeting, a group of Conservative councillors literally pinned the blame for falling life expectancy on poor people themselves. They may as well have said ‘it’s your own fault you die younger than us!’

Shocking figures

During a meeting on Thursday 1 March, the Green Party leader of the council opposition, James Burn, raised the issue of life expectancy in the Solihull area. He was noting figures that showed the average life expectancy for a male from the most deprived part of Solihull is 73.5 years, compared to 86.1 years for those the most well off areas. As BirminghamLive reported:

A woman from the most deprived background will, on average, live to 79.5 – almost ten years less than the 89.4 years expected for those living in the most comfortable circumstances.

But Tory responses to Burn’s comment that the figures should cause the council “sleepless nights” were shocking.

Shocking Conservative responses

Solihull council leader and deputy mayor of the West Midlands Bob Sleigh said:

there are issues around choices that people make with regards their own health and how they actually support that, that do impact very considerably on the life expectancy that people actually have.

Adult social care and health cabinet member Karen Grinsell said:

It is about lifestyle choices… we’re here creating jobs, ensuring that we have housing of good standard, we’re creating the jobs transport people getting to those jobs. But it is at the end of the day it is about lifestyle choices.

Children, education and skills cabinet member Ken Meeson said:

It’s not really this council that has the ability to get people… jobs. We provide the opportunities but people need to take advantage of the opportunities that are there.

Transport and highways cabinet member Ted Richards said:

A lot of it is to do with a person’s lifestyle… it’s like the old saying ‘you can take a horse to water but you can’t make the damn thing drink’.

Angry Greens

The Green Party told The Canary that its councillors responded angrily. Councillor Chris Williams represents one of the most deprived wards, Chelmsley Wood, where men die 12 years earlier than elsewhere in the borough. He said:

I’m just sick of hearing blame, blame and more blame. Blame the people of Chelmsley Wood for the fact they die earlier. I’m sick of hearing it. The Conservatives say people don’t take up the opportunities available to them – that it’s ‘lifestyle choices’. Lifestyle choices? The Marmot Review has shown that to be complete nonsense. Complete nonsense.

Green Party councillor Max McLoughlin added:

It’s not that these people are dying earlier simply because they made bad choices, it’s the choices that are available to them as a result of being on low incomes. As a society we are putting people in really difficult situations and then blaming them for those situations. I find it really saddening. It’s blaming the victims. Meanwhile, people’s lives are being cut short for no good reason.

Solihull Council told The Canary:

The council as a corporate body cannot respond as these were not policy matters, they were individual observations.

If it walks like a duck…

Should we be surprised that local Conservatives place the blame for falling life expectancy at the door of the people dying, rather than its national party’s policies of austerity and cuts to public services? Probably not. But it still doesn’t excuse the inexcusable.

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