Our health is at stake, our lives are shorter, and when the global economy staggers, our deprived communities get sucker punched, this is the reality of the inequalities in County Durham and the Tees Valley as evidenced in a new report produced by Health Equity North on behalf of the County Durham Community Foundation.

People in County Durham and Tees Valley, in the North East of England, experience extreme levels of deprivation with much higher child poverty rates, much lower life expectancy and healthy life expectancy, worse health across a wide range of conditions from strokes to cancer and much higher unemployment rates than the national average.  

County Durham and Tees Valley: Health, Wealth and (Unequal) Opportunities to Thrive exposes a growing health gap between County Durham and Tees Valley and the rest of the country and explores the impact this has on the economy.

The report paints a bleak picture of the wide-ranging health challenges faced within the area, covering social and economic inequalities, COVID-19 and the cost of living crisis, health and wellbeing, historic factors, and the impact of national policies.

The key findings are sobering, and detailed analysis can be found in the report, which is available here.


  • Child poverty rates in the region are extremely high with 38.7% of children in County Durham and Tees Valley in poverty compared to 27% nationally.  
  • Between 2015 and 2021, child poverty rates increased by 13.0 percentage points in Redcar and Cleveland; 12.4 in County Durham; 12.2 in Middlesbrough; 12.0 in Darlington; 11.8 in Stockton on Tees; and 11.6 percentage points in Hartlepool.
  • The rate of emergency admissions for children under 5 years in County Durham is 35.6% higher than the national average – and 74.4% higher in Darlington.

Life expectancy 

  • The health gap between County Durham and Tees Valley and other parts of the country grew in the last five years: male life expectancy in County Durham fell by six months between 2015-17 to 2018-20 and female life expectancy in Darlington fell by over a year in this period, whereas life expectancies increased by around a year in already high performing areas (such as Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea).
  • People live shorter lives in the region. The average life expectancy in England for men is 79.8 years. In County Durham it is 78.3 years and 77.7 years in the Tees Valley.  

Health conditions 

  • The amount of people with major health conditions such as depression, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, respiratory conditions, heart disease, cancer and dementia, is at least 10% higher in County Durham and Tees Valley.  
  • The number of people living with a limiting long-term illness is higher than the national average of 17.6%:
    • Stockton-on-Tees 19% 
    • Darlington 19.6%
    • Middlesbrough 20.9%
    • Redcar and Cleveland 22.8%
    • Hartlepool 23.2%
    • County Durham it is 23.7%

The report sets out a number of policies, strategies and solutions that are needed to overcome the divide in health, wealth and opportunities for people living in County Durham and Tees Valley. 

The County Durham Community Foundation and Health Equity North (HEN) are now calling on government to act by:

  • Giving families with children enough money and security of income to meet their basic needs
  • Making sure children have enough healthy food to eat
  • Ensuring that there is a joined-up and place-based community approach by national and local government to address poverty, health inequalities and the cost-of-living crisis
  • Giving community foundations a role in the proposed Community Wealth Funds

Dr Michelle Cooper MBE, Chief Executive of County Durham Community Foundation, said: “As a Community Foundation, we’ve been working with charities and community groups on the frontline in County Durham and the Tees Valley for nearly 30 years. We know all too well the hardships and the entrenched poverty. But the question is, what are we going to do about it? 

“This report sets out a series of recommendations that will give our region and communities a fighting chance to get out of the vicious cycle of poverty and make a brighter tomorrow a reality. We’re advocating for a common sense but urgent approach to give more resources and more funds to those local experts on the ground, who know what their communities need and can make it happen. 

“There simply is no time to waste if we are to reduce inequalities and create opportunities for a sustainable future. If we want County Durham and the Tees Valley to be a place where people can expect to grow up with a good education, secure a good job and live a full, healthy life, then the recommendations in this report must be actioned and implemented.”

Download and read County Durham and Tees Valley: Health, Wealth and (Unequal) Opportunities to Thrive.