THE new life expectancy figures for Durham are startling and put a new gloss, and a new urgency, on levelling up.

Partly because of Covid, life expectancy in the county has fallen by six months for women and seven months for men.

This is the biggest drop in the country. In fact, despite the pandemic, expectancy in the most well-off parts of London – Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea – has risen by two years for both men and women.

In 2020, according to the Office for National Statistics, life expectancy in the North East is 77.6 years for men and 81.5 years for women. In the South East, it is 80.6 years for men and 84.1 years for women.

So a man in the North East can expect to die three years sooner than a man in the South East, and a woman will die two-and-a-half years sooner.

This unfairness is why the Conservatives’ “levelling up” talk at the December 2019 election was so appealing to voters in the North East, which is why, two years on, we are still waiting for the levelling up White Paper.

And this unfairness will only partially be addressed by spending money on headline-grabbing railways on freeports which may look good on election leaflets in two years’ time. As welcome as those initiatives are, a deep social strategy is also needed to address the poverty and health issues that are at the heart of this inequality.