Tory austerity has been the cause of thousands of extra deaths

The Conservative Party’s ‘reckless’ and ‘ruthless’ policy over the last decade has seen life expectancy rates reversed and put 150 local authorities into deep financial difficulties

Tory austerity over the last decade has been responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands more people than expected, according to the largest study of its kind.

Hard hit: the impact of 10 years of Tory austerity are easy to find around Croydon

Research carried out at the University of York and published last week by BMJ Open also found that a slowdown in life expectancy improvement coincided with the government’s sharp cuts to health and social care funding after David Cameron came to power a decade ago.

These are many of the same cuts which have also impacted local authorities across the country, putting them into tightened financial straits which, as reported by Private Eye last week, when the pressures of covid-19 were added, has put an estimated 150 councils in England close to the brink.

Croydon was the first to run up the Section 114 flag to declare itself effectively bankrupt  in November 2020, but Slough followed on soon after, and now a host of others are waiting desperately for news of the government’s next annual settlement.

It is the exact opposite of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s claimed policy of “Levelling Up”. It is, in fact, levelling down.

The consequences of Croydon’s S114 notice have already been felt in the borough and a council cabinet meeting tonight will discuss imposing another £38million-worth of cuts to services and to local benefits – cuts which will hit the poorest and most vulnerable hardest.

Not alone: Private Eye’s take on the levelling down agenda

According to Adam Lent, the chief executive of thinktank New Local, austerity was a political choice, passing the buck for unpopular spending cuts down the line from central government to local councils.

Lent has described the Tories’ levelling down austerity as “ruthless” and “wildly reckless”.

While the government, and Croydon’s Tories (who voted in favour of the council’s budgets in 2019 and 2020), blamed the Labour-run council for its poor financial decisions and dodgy investments, Lent describes this as “a convenient fiction that deliberately ignores the context of an almost 50 per cent cut in government funding to councils since 2010.

“Those ‘bad financial decisions’ reflect the inability of some councils to reduce their spending on public services enough to accommodate that cut. The ‘risky investments’ are efforts by councils to generate extra income so that the spending reductions are not quite so severe,” Lent wrote in The Grauniad nearly a year ago, in the immediate aftermath of Croydon’s financial collapse.

“The fault here lies not with councils but with a decision taken back in 2010 by the coalition government to heavily load the burden of austerity on to local government and welfare… It was a ruthless but politically successful calculation to cushion the areas of the public sector that David Cameron & Co knew voters and the media cared most about.

“It was also a wildly reckless move that was bound to make crucial services unsustainable over the longer term.”

The academic researchers at York have now shown that as well as ruthless and reckless, austerity has been deadly.

Squeezed: how Croydon’s financial support from government has suffered more than other, similar London boroughs

“Restrictions on the growth in health and social care expenditure during ‘austerity’ have been associated with tens of thousands more deaths than would have been observed had pre-austerity expenditure growth been sustained,” said Prof Karl Claxton of the Centre for Health Economics at the University of York.

Austerity kills: the academic report, published last week

Researchers who analysed the joint impact of cuts to healthcare, public health and social care since 2010 found that just in the first four years, 2010 to 2014, the spending squeeze was linked with 57,550 more deaths than would have been expected.

“Our results are consistent with the hypothesis that the slowdown in the rate of improvement in life expectancy in England and Wales since 2010 is attributable to spending constraints in the healthcare and social care sectors,” the professor said.

The University of York study is the first to analyse the effect of the significant slowdown in NHS, public health and social care spending on death rates in England.

Researchers said real social care spending rose by 2.2 per cent per capita of the population between 2001-2002 and 2009-2010, but fell by 1.57 per cent between 2010-2011 and 2014-2015. The loss of social care funding caused 23,662 additional deaths, according to the findings.

Tough choices: while Croydon councillors have campaigned against the UC uplift withdrawal, they are proposing bigger cuts to the borough’s benefits

The researchers found reductions in the increase in real healthcare spend per capita when comparing the first decade of this century with the second. The cuts to healthcare spending between 2010 and 2015 led to 33,888 extra deaths, the researchers calculated.

In total, the study suggested the constraints on health and social care spending during this period of austerity have been associated with 57,550 more deaths up to 2014 than would have been expected if funding had stayed at pre-2010 levels.

“As we plan the pandemic recovery, there is an urgent need to ensure that we don’t repeat mistakes made during the recovery from the financial crisis,” said David Finch, an assistant director of healthy lives at the Health Foundation thinktank.

“This includes tackling the backlog of NHS care and fixing social care, but also providing security for the many families that are struggling financially. Policies such as the cut to universal credit run counter to this objective.”

Finch has called for central government action “on everything from housing and employment to education and transport”.

This month the government withdrew the £20 covid uplift payment for those on Universal Credit, while from next April employees’ national insurance contributions will rise by 1.25 per cent.

Read more: Further £38.4m to be sliced from next year’s council budget
Read more: Regina Road residents shiver as they face £2,000 heating bills
Read more: Councillors were warned of financial crisis months in advance

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10 Responses to Tory austerity has been the cause of thousands of extra deaths

  1. First comprehensive analysis of the position of London’s local government funding over the last two decades that I’ve seen. Well done. I only wish everyone could read and appreciate this

  2. Harry Heron says:

    I’m tired of this line. Croydon is chock full of tattoo parlours, take aways, Deliveroo drivers and more. Thats why they aint got money for heating. The country has a national debt of 2.4 trillion quid… thats 2.4 million million quid. Then there’s the pension liabilities of public sector workers which is the same again. And loadsa private debt on overpriced housing, car loans and student debt. Bottom line… we’re broke. We need a lot more austerity and it is about time people realised it. Magic money trees aint the answer.

    • Often take aways are there to feed the need not the greed. With so many in ill equipped temporary housing take aways can be the only way to feed themselves or their families. Even those “lucky” enough to be able to purchase properties could find themselves in need of these services. Take a look at places like The Quarters that are little more than a hotel room. Addressing the housing situation would be a better alternative than resorting to austerity.
      The high numbers of Deliveroo riders in Croydon shows that there are people who would rather be working than claiming benefits. I’m pretty sure during lock down the vacancies for these would have increased and filled quickly by those finding themselves redundant or futloughed. Again surely this is better than austerity?
      Noone is looking for magic money trees but they are asking for some sort of fairness in funding.
      It’s also worth noting that someone should have told Sid that in selling off utility companies we were always likely to end up in this situation.

    • Chris Flynn says:

      I think I agree with you Harry that we need to fund the public purse more, and invest in the state. But rather than ‘punching down’ and taking from people who have little to begin with, wouldn’t it be more easy and lucrative to go the billionaires?
      If Amazon paid what they were meant to (nevermind what we might think is a fair share) it wouldn’t leave them in financial peril (like increases such as those to National Insurance and Council Tax are to many of the population), but perhaps just mean they can’t do quite so many joyrides into space.

    • Ian Kierans says:

      Croydon has more gambling joints than Tattoo parlors , definitely more Uber Eats than Deliveroo, even more scooters and bikes on pavements than space to allow them, but definitely more wasteful politicians than most boroughs.

      Improve income v Austerity is a debate I agree and a level of financial probity and diligence is a must.
      But both require those spending and in debt to stop wasting money first would you not agree?
      Then secondly to ensure that you have the means to keep earning is a given.?

      Why then would you ignore all your customers, cut your means of transport to and from work not put anything by for a rainy day and leave yourself without any means to repay what you have borrowed and resort to begging?
      Now this is what our elected representatives have done along with a poor Council Executive.

      Still I for one will welcome your involuntarily increased contribution to the debt you did not run up but are having to pay with increased taxes both locally and centrally and all without complaint. One has to admire and respect that viewpoint.

  3. That’s the paradox- plenty of money around for those who exploit gas and transport markets etc and pretend they can supply PPE, but none for the poor who are being made poorer. There are many studies showing but some will never understand despite what evidence is shown.

  4. The Government Spending Review comes soon with the Budget on October 27. Let’s hope it’s a three year review which helps councils plan ahead. There have been one year reviews only recently.

    With NHS and school budgets protected and more money to go on Defence, Local Government, like other non-protected budgets will see grants falling by another 3 to 5%.

    Government needs to stop playing the destructive to people’s lives game of hurting local councils’ budgets. Council Tax rates are also becoming untenable.

    You see dramatic figures used of cuts to local government grant of 76% locally. This is accurate but can mislead as government has changed income flows to local councils. Like other councils Croydon’s real spend per head per year is about 20 % down since the Tories came to power nationally.

    That in itself is a huge cut to cope with each and every year.

    There are still savings to be found in a forensic consideration of private sector contracts.

    When Council Tax benefit is run by councils (with less funding for this as well from central government) and when social care is secured by councils it’s often these needy groups that eventually get impacted.

    Grass cutting is given a lower priority than these vulnerable fellow Croydonians.

    Croydon’s treatment by governments of all three colours has been poor bearing in mind its growing demographic challenges. Some of that problem goes a long way back with grant support being based on historical spend that the Conservatives from 1964 to 1988 kept down.

    But as government grants fall anyway attention has to turn to how to maximise income. This includes development and working with private sector partners to identify investment that will no longer be coming from the council’s “39 steps” of infrastructure investment.

    Monies can be secured from Croydon’s outperforming Pension Fund without having any impact on payments to Croydon council’s Fund’s pensioners.

    And arms length companies are financial death as both Conservative and Labour Croydon councils have found to the severe expense of the Council Tax payer locally.

    With the government’s White Paper on levelling up due soon and Tory support in London in retreat London councils might get worse financial treatment than other councils.

  5. moyagordon says:

    I don’t know what the answer is. Higher taxes and catching tax dodgers, would help, but is more money the answer? Don’t we also need to ensure the taxes we raise are spent wisely and be more innovative with how we solve problems, have more accountability over standards.

    • C Cullen says:

      How many more layers of government do we need to see that the meagre amount of money available is “spent wisely.” Do we imagine there is someone in every council going round blowing millions on the horses? Just stop the treasury underfunding councils.
      Stop the cuts!

      • moyagordon says:

        Well I wish it wasn’t necessary to change the way things are run but you only have to look at our own council’s way with money and there is definitely room for improvement.

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