Austerity and Health

For the last 30-plus years, the dominant politico-economic theory in the West has been ‘neo-liberalisation’. Roughly, this believes in the pre-eminence of the market, that the market is always right, that government should be small and not provide services.

The response of neo-liberalism to bad times is austerity. A retrenchment of state services, and an emphasis on debt reduction.

What effects does austerity have on health? It’s not so easy at this stage to be factually certain, for statistics often have a significant lag. However, some trends are quite clear.
There has been a reduction in social care recipients in England (Figure and data from Danny Dorling, 2014, Inequality and the 1%):

D_Dorling_01 1

Lack of social care can be expected to increase loneliness, and loneliness is clearly associated with poor mental health.

There is a clear increase in poverty, as ‘benefits’ are reduced; poverty is associated with feelings of shame, and this too is associated with poor mental health.
At the same time, funding for the NHS in England is not keeping up with inflation, and it is expected that there will be a real 4% reduction in funding. This hasn’t been achieved before, but clearly can only be approached if there are significant reductions in provision. And mental health services have always been a ‘Cinderella’.

An extra 23,400 people in England and Wales died between 2012 and early 2013, equivalent to a 5% rise in mortality. While this was blamed on flu, this is very unlikely. (In the pea-souper fog of 1952-53, there were 12,000 excess deaths, which were also blamed on flu. Again, incorrect.)

For the first time in many years, life expectancy for women in England now shows a decrease.

These can all be designated as ‘lead indicators’, and we can expect further data to show worsening levels of health as austerity continues.

All the UK political parties, except the Greens, are signed up to austerity. I’m not clear what the economic policies of SF and the DUP are—though for them, ‘flegs’ emblems, marches and bickering seem much more important than people’s health.


  • Not convinced the word “austerity” is an accurate or politically unloaded description for “spending less of other people’s forcibly appropriated money” 😉

  • Practically_Family

    Isn’t that the aim though, to have the poor die?

  • Neil

    Quite right. I mean taking 350 billion pounds and handing it over to the very people who caused the crash in the first place was bang out of order, but cutting terminally ill people’s DLA will help offset that.

  • PaulT

    “At the same time, funding for the NHS in England is not keeping up with inflation, and it is expected that there will be a real 4% reduction in funding.”

    That doesn’t include the £20 billion cut a few years ago, the continuing waste on outsourcing and privatisation BUT the real killer for the NHS is the continuous top down reorgs done as vanity projects of every Health minister.

    Discussion on this on R5 yesterday, GP practice in Brighton with 5,500 patients is closing because it lost 400k in funding, claimed they were the tip of the iceberg and another 4 GPs in Brighton would close soon, And once the rest try to take up the additional they’ll go bust too.

    On the plus side, for every rash panicky badly planned throwing good money after bad solution in England it will result in 5% of the cash going to NI

  • kalista63

    The sales pitch to the public, to justify neo-liberalism, is trickle down but the myth is exposed by the recent tax stories. When voices are raised about the bankers, Gideon and Call Me Dave talk about how much tax these people pay and how delicate they are, likely to flee, apparently.

    Meanwhile, social democratic countries trot on, as they do, never galloping or bolting as we do but steady as she goes and making a laughing stock of neo-liberalism as we watch American cities turn in to scheme from Mad Max.

  • Reader

    Korhomme: For the last 30-plus years, the dominant politico-economic theory in the West has been ‘neo-liberalisation’.
    I miss the old bogeymen – the Neo-Cons. I think that 6 years ago the neo-liberals executed them all and they are now at the bottom of the harbour in concrete boots.
    Or maybe they are just hiding – the neo-Cons will make a comeback as scapegoats at the next US presidential election?
    Anyway – “lead-indicators” aside, what has happened to life expectancy over the last “30-plus years”? My guess is that it has increased.

  • Well it is a start.

  • Old Mortality

    That’s just witless guff. The £350mn was not ‘handed over’ to anyone. It was used to recapitalise the banks and provide liquidity. That intervention is now reducing public borrowing because of the profits generated by the banks which are majority-owned by the state.

  • Zig70

    witless guff? what amount of actual bank profits has been paid back to reduce public borrowing?

  • PaulT

    but as the banks profits were generated not by lending to SMEs but in fuelling personal debt and housing bubbles, resulting in the totally wrong sort of ‘recovery’ which continues to limp along while creating a financial timebomb of unaffordable personal debt.

    Immediate damage is in things like the fact that ‘in work benefits’ is now heading towards £45Billion, the fastest growing bit is housing benefit.

    You see, if a bank has cheap money you can borrow more, so house prices go up, so lots of people can’t afford to buy and rent instead, but rents have gone up to match house prices, so lots of people qualify for housing benefit.

    So the Gov pay the rent, the rent pays the mortgage and the bank is happy that the landlord can repay his large mortgage plus the interest which is the profit which they pay tax on to the gov, so the gov can pay the rent ……….

  • D99

    We talking upwards of 350 billion (not million); and when the next crash comes it will not be possible to bail out the banks again.

    Banks should be nationalised and should exist to provide a public service, not make exorbitant profits for rich gamblers who when they fail blackmail the State for a bailout.

    The Health Service is being run down so that when it’s perceived to have ‘failed’, there’s an excuse to privatise it in order to create further profit making opportunities for private companies.

    There’s no alternative to austerity, or at least no major party in the UK offering a real alternative. So an increase in poverty and ill health is inevitable, maybe until after the next crash … when the public may not so easily forgive the banksters, profiteers and their neoliberal cronies.

  • Old Mortality

    Just have a look at the public finance statistics on the ONS website.