BOYS living in Scotland's most deprived communities can now expect to live to just 46 before their health starts to deteriorate.

A new Scottish Government report shows healthy life expectancy is declining in the poorest neighbourhoods, widening the gap between the wealthy and the poor.

Boys and girls born in the most affluent parts of Scotland in 2011-12 can hope to reach the ages of 70 and 72 before suffering poor health, according to the ­government research.

In contrast, boys in the poorest areas will only reach 46.4. This suggests they will decline a whole year earlier in their lives than boys born in 2009-10, who were projected by an earlier report to reach the age of 47.4. However, the report's authors argue the difference is not statistically significant.

Dr Brian Keighley, chairman of the British Medical Association in Scotland, said: "For those people living in the most deprived communities the inequalities in health have never been more apparent.

"The health effects of social inequalities are a huge burden on the NHS and while doctors can do all they can to treat these illnesses, they will not reduce the drivers of inequality in society.

"Giving people access to jobs, good education, quality housing and welfare support would help to reduce the gap, thereby relieving pressure on the health service."

Minister for Public Health Michael Matheson said income inequality was the cause and the Scottish Government wanted to develop a welfare system to support those who needed it.

He added: "This illustrates the fact that the full powers of independence would provide the opportunity to make substantial progress on tackling health inequalities.

"We are continuing to take ­decisive action in areas we have control, for example to address alcohol consumption, reduce smoking rates, encourage active living, healthy eating, and promote positive mental health.

"But without full control over areas like welfare, we are left having to deal with UK Government welfare policies that only threaten to make things worse."

However, Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesman Jim Hume condemned the Scottish Government for raising the independence question and accused it of raising the white flag on tackling health inequalities.

He said: "In five years the ­Scottish Government seems to have run out of steam in tackling health inequalities. Instead of setting out how they will tackle health inequalities today they are twiddling their thumbs and obsessing about their independence plans.

"This miserable response to the real health inequalities faced across Scotland only shows that the SNP will do and say anything to achieve independence. Only five years ago they set out a detailed report on how to tackle health inequalities.

"What a difference a ­referendum makes."

Scottish Labour's Health spokesman Neil Findlay said: "The continuing story of health inequalities across the country is Scotland's disgrace.

"The Scottish Government need to be accountable here and not simply blame welfare cuts from Westminster.

"There's a much bigger picture to be looked at not least the current problems faced by the NHS, ­tackling unemployment, ­supporting young people in education and providing support in communities."