Austerity since 2010 linked to tens of thousands more deaths than expected

Researchers look at public health spending and mortality rates

Matt Mathers
Friday 15 October 2021 02:21
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Tory austerity attacked

Austerity measures introduced by David Cameron’s coalition government after 2010 can be linked to tens of thousands of additional deaths, according to a damning new study.

A paper published by researchers at the University of York concluded that reductions in funding to health can be linked to an extra 57,550 fatalities.

Researchers looked at the healthcare spending of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat government after 2010.

The researchers said the results of their paper confirmed what had been reported in previous studies.

But the conclusions of causal impact of social care, public health and healthcare expenditure on mortality in England, published in the BMJ Open journal, make “a major contribution by additionally estimating the effect of social care expenditure,” its authors said.

The findings were based on a hypothetical calculation that pre-2010 growth levels in healthcare spending were maintained in the coalition years.

“There is evidence that all three types of health related expenditure have a significant negative effect on mortality,” the study’s authors said.

After forming a coalition with then Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, David Cameron’s government embarked on a series of public spending cuts which broadly became known as austerity.

Mr Cameron and the Conservative Party said the cuts were necessary to get the public finances back in order following the 2008 financial crash.

But the Labour Party and other critics said they were unnecessary and too far reaching.

Several other studies have suggested that the coalition government’s austerity policies resulted in thousands of additional deaths.

A September 2019 paper by academics at University College London put the figure at 120,000.

Effects of health and social care spending constraints on mortality in England: a time trend analysis, also published in the BMJ Open journal, compared mortality rates before and after the coalition’s time in government.

The researchers estimated there were nearly 45,000 more deaths between 2012 and 2014 than would have been predicted by earlier mortality trends.

“Combining these projected excess deaths and the observed deaths prior to 2015 translates to around 120 000 excess deaths from 2010 to 2017,” the paper said.

For the study published on Thursday, researchers looked at the spend on public health and on adult social services by each local authority in England for 2013-2014 - the first financial year in which local authorities became responsible for public health.

Information on healthcare spend was obtained from the budget returns for the 212 bodies responsible for commissioning health services in 2013-14 - clinical commissioning groups.

The joint impact of social care, public health, and healthcare spend on deaths in England was assessed, and changes in health and social care spend before and after 2010 were extracted from the previously published time trends study.

The difference between these levels of spend and the responsiveness of death rates to any changes in expenditure from 2013-14 were used to estimate the number of additional deaths associated with spending constraints after 2010.

The time trends study found that real social care spending rose by 2.20 per cent per head of the population between 2001-02 and 2009-10, but fell by 1.57 per cent between 2010-11 and 2014-15.

If this annual difference (3.77 per cent) in social care spend before and after 2010 is applied to each of the 4 ‘austerity’ years, then the total spending gap attributable to austerity is 15.08 per cent.

In 2012, there were 467,000 deaths in England. The analysis suggests that a 1 per cent decrease in spend would generate 1569 extra deaths.

So the ‘loss’ of 15.08 per cent in social care spend between 2010-11 and 2014-15 will have caused 23,662 additional deaths, the researchers calculated.

The time trends study also found that real healthcare spend per head rose by 3.82 per cent between 2001-02 and 2009-10, but only by 0.41 per cent between 2010-11 and 2014-15.

If this annual difference (3.41 per cent) is applied to each of the 4 austerity years, then the total spending gap attributable to austerity is 13.64 per cent.

The analysis suggests that a 1 per cent decrease in healthcare spend will generate 2484 additional deaths.

So the ‘loss’ of 13.64 per cent in healthcare spend between 2010-11 and 2014-15 will have caused 33,888 extra deaths, calculate the researchers, bringing the total number of deaths to 57,550.

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