” … According to a bombshell report in the British Medical Journal last year, austerity has been linked to 120,000 extra deaths since 2010. In practice, it suggested, that could lead to 100 early deaths every single day in the coming years. The impact is, predictably enough, felt by the poorest.
Remember when Theresa May stood on the steps of Downing Street in July 2016 and delivered her first speech as prime minister, promising to correct Britain’s “burning injustices”? One of these injustices was that those born poor die nine years earlier. And yet according to David Buck – an expert in health inequalities at the King’s Fund – the gap in health outcomes and life expectancy between the most affluent and the least well-off is only widening under her abysmal premiership.
What could possibly be causing this national disaster? Rule out alcohol use: it has been steadily falling, with the ONS finding in 2016 that alcohol consumption had fallen to its lowest rate since the survey began in 2005. There are fewer smokers in England than ever. As Dorling notes, there has not been a major influenza outbreak since the increase in life expectancy ground to a halt. Neither is it credible to suggest Britain has simply reached a plateau – that life expectancy cannot keep increasing for ever. “We are a long way off that,” as Professor Martin McKee has put it, observing that life expectancy in Japan and Scandinavian nations is higher.
Given the government is refusing a national inquiry into the great standstill in life expectancy, experts are left without a credible explanation other than austerity.
Consider specific policies. The NHS has suffered the longest squeeze in its funding as a share of the economy since it was founded after the war. Its annual increase in funding in the first four years of Tory-led rule was 1.3%, despite growing patient demand and increasing healthcare costs. Then there’s social care for the elderly: a devastating £6bn less spent since David Cameron entered Downing Street. As Dorling and Basten note, since 2010, many care homes – all too often a privately run racket – have closed; and cuts to social security, not least disability benefits, have undoubtedly played a role. There are other chilling factors at play, too. Until the financial crash, Britain’s suicide rate had been falling. Since then, experts believe there could have been an extra 1,000 deaths from suicide and an additional 30 to 40,000 attempts, with austerity playing a role.
This country and its people will be paying for the Tories’ ideologically driven disaster for years to come. Those children driven into poverty will have worse health and lowered educational opportunities as a consequence, undermining their potential, and with it the potential of the whole country. As living standards stagnate, a consumer debt bubble beckons, with potentially disastrous economic consequences. Public services and infrastructure will creak. But there is far more at stake.
Austerity is literally a matter of life and death. Unless it is stopped, lives will continue to be unnecessarily shortened. That Cameron and Osborne crow over a project that has caused so much misery is grotesque. Among the many injustices they have perpetrated, history must surely record the robbing of human life for ideological means.”