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Cutting welfare spending costs lives

Spending cuts kill. That is the stark finding of new research published in the British Medical Journal.

The study finds that levels of social spending in Europe are 'strongly associated' with risks of death, especially from diseases relating to social circumstances, such as heart attacks and alcohol-induced illness. The conclusion is that it's not just health spending that needs to be ring-fenced but welfare spending too. In fact, the research suggests that social spending is more significantly associated with mortality from diseases related to social circumstances (such as alcohol related deaths) than healthcare spending.

The team led by David Stuckler from the University of Oxford evaluated data on social welfare spending collected by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) from 15 European countries in the years 1980 to 2005. This includes programmes to provide support to families and children, help the unemployed obtain jobs, and support for people with disabilities, all of which could affect health.

In short, they found that when social spending was high, mortality rates fell, but when they were low, mortality rates rose substantially.

Based on their mathematical models, the researchers estimated that each £70 reduction in social welfare spending per person would increase alcohol-related deaths by about 2.8% and cardiovascular mortality by 1.2%, meaning that even modest budget cuts could have a significant impact on public health.

The researchers found spending on social welfare to promote health, and not simply healthcare, had the greatest impact on public health. However, they also found that reducing spending on non-welfare sources, such as military or prisons, had no such negative impact on the public’s health. 'Health and social welfare programmes appear to be a key determinant of future population health that should be taken into account in ongoing economic debates,' say the authors.

'This report reveals that ordinary people may be paying the ultimate price for budget cuts - potentially costing them their lives. If we want to promote a sustainable recovery in Britain, we must first ensure that we have taken care of people’s most basic health needs.'

The paper concludes: 'If the first priority of a government is to protect the lives of its people, a statement often made in response to the perceived threat from terrorism, then it should take account of the implications of its economic policies for health.'

Page created on June 24th, 2010

Page updated on July 2nd, 2010