My Column on the Link Between Austerity and Life Expectancy

The following appeared in my column for the Barnsley Chronicle on 11th May:

We’re fortunate to enjoy a high life expectancy here in the UK compared to many other countries across the world.

But after doubling over the last 180 years, life expectancy in the UK has flatlined recently.

We know that it can’t continue to rise forever, but that doesn’t explain why life expectancy has not only flatlined but actually decreased in some areas.

This is particularly the case in post-industrial and former mining towns like Barnsley – which has one of the lowest life expectancy levels in the country.

The decrease in life expectancy is largely down to a rise in mortality rates – to put it simply, there are now more people dying earlier, including nearly 10,000 more people in the first seven weeks of 2018 than in the same period of 2017.

But there hasn’t been an unusual cold snap, natural disaster or flu outbreak that we might expect to be responsible, so why is this?

I recently took part in a parliamentary debate which shone a light on this issue and the growing evidence associated with one particular cause.

We simply can’t ignore the fact that this drastic change has occurred since 2011 and the onset of austerity, or assume that our depleted NHS and social care systems have had absolutely nothing to do with it.

Where ill-health was once greeted with a strong health and social care system, this has been badly inhibited by severe slashes to budgets and resources.

The safety net that was instrumental in the growth of life expectancy has been reduced, with our NHS now underfunded, understaffed and overstretched, and the problem being further compounded by problems with the provision of adult social care.

The evidence increasingly suggests that the impact of austerity in these areas has had a profound impact on mortality and life expectancy, with areas like our own feeling the full brunt of the cuts.

This should concern us all, and the Government should look very seriously at the evidence of a link between austerity and life expectancy.

It’s simply inexcusable that in this day and age, in the world’s six richest country, people are dying sooner than they should.