Government austerity ‘the leading cause’ of stalled progress on UK life expectancy

·3-min read
Austerity policies have been blamed for stalled improvement on death rates  (Getty Images)
Austerity policies have been blamed for stalled improvement on death rates (Getty Images)

Austerity policies have made an “important and substantial” contribution to the stagnation of mortality rates, researchers have said.

Mortality rates throughout the 20th century fell year on year, except in times of war or pandemic, but began to stagnate around 2012.

When adjusted for population, mortality rates in the UK ceased to fall as quickly as in previous years in 2012, with the poorest being hit hardest by the changes.

A new report by Glasgow University and the Glasgow Centre for Population Health, using already available studies, has suggested government cuts in the wake of the 2008 financial crash contributed to the stagnation.

Austerity is highly likely to be the most substantial causal contributor to the stalled mortality trends

Glasgow University report

The researchers also suggested 40 recommendations to address the issue, including a commitment not to institute austerity policies in the future, increase benefits and clamp down on tax evasion and avoidance.

“Austerity is evidenced as making an important and substantial causal contribution, and is likely to underpin a number of the other observed changes,” the report said.

“Austerity is highly likely to be the most substantial causal contributor to the stalled mortality trends seen in Scotland and across the UK (and more  tentatively across other high income countries),” it added.

The report’s lead author Gerry McCartney, a professor of wellbeing economy at Glasgow University, said the recommendations were prescient given the recovery from the pandemic.

“At a time when we are witnessing an escalating cost-of-living crisis and when decisions and policy choices are being made about pandemic recovery and rebuilding the economy, now is the time to listen to the evidence and implement these solutions that will support rather than damage population health,” he said.

“Any further austerity policies that squeeze public spending will have disastrous long-term impacts on population health and result in more and more lives cut short.

“We cannot allow that.

“The report’s recommendations and policy responses would put us back on a trajectory of improving mortality trends that we were on pre-austerity, and support the population and economy to recover and flourish equitably.”

Meanwhile Dr David Walsh, the report’s co-author, said the stagnation in mortality rates “should simply not be happening in a wealthy society such as the UK”.

“The evidence shows they are principally the result of UK government austerity policies that have squeezed billions of pounds from public services and social security and have had a devastating impact on the lives of so many in our communities,” he said.

He added: “This is a matter that affects us all and we want to ensure that as broad a range of people as possible are aware of what has been happening and add their voices to those calling for urgent action.”

A UK government spokesman said: “The new health and care levy will raise around £12 billion a year across the UK, with £1.1 billion going to support the Scottish government to further invest in health services by 2024, this is on top of their £41 billion annual block grant.

“Tackling health disparities is a priority for the government, and we will work with the Scottish government and the powers they have, to focus on the people and places who face the worst health outcomes.”

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