Do spending cuts cost lives?

Jun 24, 2010

Radical cuts to social welfare spending to reduce budget deficits could cause not just economic pain but cost lives, warn experts in a study published in the British Medical Journal today.

While there is a major debate under way about the potential economic impacts of radical budget cuts in Europe, David Stuckler from the University of Oxford and his colleagues dissect the effect of public spending on people's health.

Their analysis shows 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.

As such, they argue that, although governments may feel they are protecting health by safeguarding healthcare budgets, spending is as important, if not moreso, for population health.

The team 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 plausibly affect health.

They analysed the relationship between trends in these data and social spending. They found that when social spending was high, mortality rates fell, but when they were low, 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%, so 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.

"This result indicates that some aspects of population health are sensitive to spending on social support," say the authors. "Nevertheless, health and social welfare programmes appears to be a key determinant of future population health that should be taken into account in ongoing economic debates."

They add: "This report reveals that ordinary people may be paying the ultimate price for - 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."

Explore further: Drug tests on mothers' hair links recreational drug use to birth defects

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

US tops world in health care spending, results lag

Dec 08, 2009

(AP) -- The United States ranks near the bottom in life expectancy among wealthy nations despite spending more than double per person on health care than the industrialized world's average, an economic group said Tuesday.

The effect of economic recessions on population health

Aug 31, 2009

Paradoxically, mortality rates during economic recessions in developed countries decline rather than increase, according to an analysis in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal). In poor countries with less than $50 ...

Recommended for you

Halloween at the ER is no treat

4 hours ago

(HealthDay)—Carving pumpkins and trick-or-treating may seem like harmless fun, but Halloween injuries send many children to emergency rooms in the United States every year, experts say.

Fewer malpractice claims paid in the US

4 hours ago

(HealthDay)—The number of medical malpractice payments in the United States has dropped sharply since 2002, according to a new study. And compensation payment amounts and liability insurance costs for many ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.