Austerity is “economic murder” says Cambridge researcher

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A research report, published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) Open – the Effects of health and social care spending constraints on mortality in England: a time trend analysis, concludes that austerity cuts are correlated with an increase in mortality rates, confirming what many of us have proposed for some time. The research revealed that there were 45,000 more deaths in the first four years of Tory-led “efficiency savings” than would have been expected if funding had stayed at pre-election levels.

The new study strongly suggests that austerity policies will have caused 120,000 deaths by 2020. 

The joint research was conducted by Oxford, Cambridge and University College London, and it makes clear links between cuts in government health and social care spending and higher mortality rates in England. 

Cambridge University’s Professor Lawrence King, who contributed to the study, said: “Austerity does not promote growth or reduce deficits – it is bad economics. It is also a public health disaster. It is not an exaggeration to call it economic murder.”

The authors point to cuts in public spending and the drop in the number of nurses since 2010, all of which has contributed to place over-60s and care home residents most at risk of premature death.  

Between 2001 and 2010 the number of nurses rose on average 1.61% a year. From 2010 to 2014, under the Conservatives, the rise was just 0.07% – 20 times lower than the previous decade.

The Royal College of Nursing chief, Janet Davies, said: “All parts of the NHS and social care system do not have enough nurses and vulnerable and older individuals pay the highest price.”

2015 saw the largest annual spike in mortality rates in England in almost 50 years. These changes in mortality rates are associated with an indicator of poor functioning of health and social care, for which funding has been cut despite rising demands since 2010.

Earlier this year, another research report concluded that an unprecedented rise in mortality in England and Wales, where 30,000 excess deaths occurred in 2015, is likely to be linked to cuts to the NHS and social care, according to research which drew an angry response from the government, who deny the established link.

The highly charged claim was made by researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Oxford University and Blackburn with Darwen council, who said that the increase in mortality took place against a backdrop of “severe cuts” to the NHS and social care, compromising their performance.

The government – which will casually spend hundreds of thousands of pounds of public funds to fight Freedom of Information requests regarding mortality data – claim we cannot afford to support sick and disabled people, unless we “target” those “most in need” because otherwise, our publicly funded social security is “unsustainable.”

It’s become very clear that the cost cutting system imposed by the Conservatives does not “target” many of those most in need, and that government policies are causing harm, distress, hunger, destitution, an increase in suicide and premature deaths, yet discussing the deaths of its citizens in a democratic, transparent and accountable way is something that the government have consistently refused to do.

Instead, public funds and energy are invested in denying a “causal link” between the austerity programme, punitive policies and increasing hunger, destitution and desperation, and apparently, no prioriy at all is given to monitoring policy impacts or concern: the government refuse to ask why these premature deaths and suicides have occurred (and continue to occur) in one of the wealthiest nations. 

It would be reasonable to assume that, even if a government vigorously denied responsibility for more than 120,000 excess deaths, (with a proportion of the mortalities including those assessed as “fit for work” by the state), they would at least have the decency to ask basic questions as to where the responsibility lay, and how this has happened.

Of course, in denying a “causal link” between their policies and a substantial increase in mortality, and levelling the charge that research findings and campaigners’ qualitative accounts are merely “anecdotal evidence” that fail to  provide “empirical evidence” of a “causal link”, the government doesn’t seem to recognise that its’ own claims are completely unevidenced, and there is no “causal link whatsoever between their evident indolence, politically contrived and expedient narrative and the facts.

This isn’t simply a matter of a government being undemocratic and unaccountable. It’s much more serious than that. It’s a matter of the state either casually playing roulette with the very lives of its own people. Or worse.

Perhaps it’s a matter of a state intentionally and systematically killing its citizens with austerity policies that target marginalised social groups.

It’s not as if previous Conservative government policies have been benign. Margaret Thatcher’s neoliberal policies have also been condemned for causing “unjust premature death” in the UK. Public health experts from Durham University have denounced the impact of Margaret Thatcher’s policies on the health and wellbeing of the British public in research which examines social inequality in the 1980s.

The study, which looked at over 70 existing research papers, concludes that as a result of unnecessary unemployment, welfare cuts and damaging housing policies, the former prime minister’s legacy includes the unnecessary and unjust premature death of many British citizens, together with a substantial and continuing burden of suffering and loss of well-being.

This research shows that there was a massive increase in income inequality under Baroness Thatcher – the richest 0.01 per cent of society had 28 times the mean national average income in 1978 but 70 times the average in 1990, and UK poverty rates went up from 6.7 per cent in 1975 to 12 per cent in 1985.

The report goes on to say that Thatcher’s governments wilfully engineered an economic catastrophe across large parts of Britain by dismantling traditional industries such as coal and steel in order to undermine the power of working class organisations, say the researchers. They suggest this ultimately fed through into growing regional disparities in health standards and life expectancy, as well as greatly increased inequalities between the richest and poorest in society.

Her critique of UK social democracy during the 1970s and her adoption of key neoliberal strategies, such as financial deregulation, trade liberalization, and the privatization of public goods and services, were popularly labeled “Thatcherism.” Thatcher’s policies were associated with substantial increases in socioeconomic and health inequalities: these issues were actively marginalized and ignored by her governments. In addition, her public sector reforms applied business principles to the welfare state and prepared the National Health Service for subsequent privatization.

The current government have simply continued and extended Thatcher’s neoliberal programme, without any consideration of, or reference to, the body of empirical research that demonstrates the terrible social costs of  neoliberalism, as a result of  the social and economic inequalities it creates.

Meanwhile, a Department of Health spokesman has said of the latest study: “This study cannot be used to draw any firm conclusions about the cause of excess deaths.”

However, as I’ve already pointed out, any government statement of denial regarding empirical research cannot be used to draw any firm conclusions about the cause of excess deaths.

It may only be used to draw firm conclusions that the government has no intention of investigating the link between a significant increase in mortality rates and their own policies, or of changing those policies to meet public needs and to ensure that citizens’ fundamental and equal right to life is upheld.


 

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