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UK economic policies likely to cause many more deaths than Covid – academic

Professor Ruth Dundas of Glasgow University spoke out as a new report was published looking at mortality in the UK.

04 October 2022

The UK Government’s economic policies are “likely” to have caused a “great many more deaths” than the Covid-19 pandemic, an academic has claimed.

Researchers said their “not only shocking but shameful” statistics showed that almost 335,000 more deaths than expected were recorded across Scotland, England and Wales over an eight-year period.

Experts at Glasgow University and the Glasgow Centre for Population Health (GCPH) had looked at data on deaths in the three countries over the period 2012 to 2019.

Commenting on the findings, Ruth Dundas, a professor of social epidemiology at the University of Glasgow and one of the authors of the report, said: “This study shows that in the UK a great many more deaths are likely to have been caused by UK Government economic policy than by the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Her comments came as the report said there was now a “clear and urgent need … for such harmful policies to be reversed”, with the authors urging the UK Government to “implement measures to protect the most vulnerable in society”.

The study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, noted there were 334,327 excess deaths over the expected number in England, Wales and Scotland over the period.

This included 237,855 excess deaths amongst males in England and Wales, with a further 12,735 excess deaths recorded amongst men in Scotland.

Amongst women there were 77,173 excess deaths in England and Wales, as well as 6,564 in Scotland.

The research was carried out amid a “a stalling of improvement overall” in mortality rates, with increasing death rates among the poorest having been observed across the UK since the early 2010s.

Statistical analysis showed previously improving mortality trends had changed around the period 2011 to 2013 in both Scotland and England – with this occurring following the election of the Conservatives into Number 10 in 2010.

The study found that among females living in the 20% most deprived areas of England, death rates increased by approximately 3% between 2010-12 and 2017-19, after having declined by around 14% in the previous decade.

In Scotland, among the 20% most deprived population, rates of premature death increased by 6-7% among males and females, with this coming after previous decreases of 10-20%.

Speaking about the research Dr David Walsh, the lead author of the paper and public health programme manager at the GCPH, said: “These figures are not only shocking but shameful.”

He added: “We must remember that these are more than just statistics: they represent hundreds of thousands of people whose lives have been cut short, and hundreds of thousands of families who have had to deal with the grief and aftermath of those deaths.

“The tragic thing is that these deaths did not have to happen. In the words of the United Nations, in a society as wealthy as the UK, ‘poverty is a political choice’.

“The UK Government needs to understand the damaging impact of austerity and respond with policies that put us back on the path of improving, not worsening, life expectancy for all.”

The report is published amid speculation that the current UK Government could oversee a real-terms cuts to benefits in a bid to reduce public spending.

Prime Minister Liz Truss and her Cabinet allies have so far declined to say whether welfare payments will be increased in line with soaring inflation.

Report co-author Professor Gerry McCartney, professor of wellbeing economy at the University of Glasgow, said: “As the UK Government debates current and future economic direction, it needs to understand, and learn from, the devastating effects that cuts to social security and vital services have had on the health of the population across the whole of the UK.”

He also urged the Scottish Government to do everything it can within its devolved powers to mitigate the effects of these UK Government policies and help protect people from the “disastrous consequences”.

Prof Dundas said: “We need to reverse the austerity policies and protect the income, and therefore the health, of the poorest and most vulnerable in our society.”

Scottish Health Secretary Humza Yousaf said: “This is a shocking finding which underlines the true human cost of austerity and reinforces the urgent need for the UK Government to change course from its current budgetary proposals.

“Reinforcing austerity, and imposing deep real terms cuts on welfare payments and on public services as a whole, would simply add to the human toll so starkly illustrated in this study.

“We are doing everything possible within our limited powers and finite budget to help address the cost-of-living crisis – however, most of the key policy levers are held by the UK Government, which needs to take urgent action.”

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