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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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