Scientists estimate how many lives cost of living crisis may have claimed in UK

‘The mortality impacts of inflation and real-terms income reduction are likely to be large and negative’

Vishwam Sankaran
Tuesday 26 September 2023 07:28 BST
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Related video: UK inflation sees surprise drop in August

Some of the most deprived parts of the UK may see nearly 70 more annual premature deaths per 100,000 due to the ongoing cost of living crisis, according to a new study.

The proportion of people dying before their time (under the age of 75) could rise by nearly 6.5 per cent or 30 extra deaths per 100,000 of the population annually, found the study, published recently in the journal BMJ Public Health.

Some of the most deprived households could experience a rate of such premature deaths four times that of the least deprived, said researchers, including those from Public Health Scotland in Edinburgh.

Owing to Brexit, the Covid-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine as well as the government fiscal policy, the UK is witnessing levels of inflation not seen since the 1970s.

Poorer households are bearing the brunt as they spend a larger proportion of their income on energy, the cost of which has soared.

Previous long-term studies have clearly established a link between falls in income and adverse health effects on populations.

To help some of the poorest households, the UK government introduced a universal Energy Price Guarantee (EPG) and a series of more targeted Cost of Living Support payments.

In the new study, researchers assessed the impact of inflation on death rates in Scotland in 2022-23, with and without mitigating measures.

Scientists used mathematical modelling to predict how recent high inflation would affect household incomes, mitigation measures that would modify them, changes in death rates/life expectancy as well as inequalities in these as a result.

Researchers modelled three scenarios – one without any mitigating measures, one with the inclusion of the EPG and one scenario with the inclusion of the EPG and cost of living support payments.

They then compared these measures against “business as usual” to estimate the health effects of each one.

The simulation revealed that without mitigating measures, inflation in October 2022 would have ranged from just under 15 per cent in the wealthiest households to just under 23 per cent in the poorest.

The EPG scenario, according to the mathematical model, reduced the inflation to between 11.7 per cent and 15.7 per cent respectively.

Researchers found that households in the poorest areas, even with government support, were likely £1,400 worse off in 2022-23.

Inflation, the study suggested, could increase deaths by 23 per cent in the poorest areas and by 5 per cent in the least deprived areas.

The EPG scenario was found to lower these to between 3 per cent and 16 per cent, and the addition of the cost-of-living support to between 2 and 8 per cent respectively.

For the unmitigated scenario, the average increase in premature deaths would be 192 more annual premature deaths per 100,000 of the population compared with 11 more in the least deprived, research indicated.

While both mitigation measures were found to reduce these numbers, the poorest areas were still predicted to experience an increase around four times that of the least deprived.

Researchers said this could result in about 70 more premature deaths per 100,000 population among the poorest neighbourhoods even with both the mitigation measures.

“Evidence suggests that since 2012, economic conditions in the UK have caused a stalling of life expectancy and widened health inequalities, as austerity led to weaker social security and reduced income for the poorest households,” researchers wrote in the study.

While the latest study is conducted in Scotland, they said “similar effects are likely across the UK as we have modelled the impact of UK government measures”.

“The mortality impacts of inflation and real-terms income reduction are likely to be large and negative, with marked inequalities in how these are experienced,” researchers noted.

“Implemented public policy responses are not sufficient to protect health and prevent widening inequalities,” they said.

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