The UK government has been implementing tight constraints on public spending to attempt to recover from the 2008 financial crash and bailout. But this austerity is controversial.

A recent report in The Independent claims the following (I've bolded the key elements of the claim):

The Conservatives have been accused of “economic murder” for austerity policies which a new study suggests have caused 120,000 deaths.

The paper found that there were 45,000 more deaths in the first four years of Tory-led efficiencies than would have been expected if funding had stayed at pre-election levels.

The claim continues:

"We have found that spending constraints since 2010, especially public expenditure on social care, may have produced a substantial mortality gap in England.”

The papers’ senior author and a researcher at UCL, Dr Ben Maruthappu, said that while the paper “can’t prove cause and effect” it shows an association.

And he added this trend is seen elsewhere. “When you look at Portugal and other countries that have gone through austerity measures, they have found that health care provision gets worse and health care outcomes get worse...”

So it isn't just a claim about the situation in the UK.

Can we confidently claim that austerity has caused 120,000 deaths in the UK and can also be shown to harm mortality in other countries?

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    Note the clash between "responsible" (title) versus "resulted in" (video) versus "suggests have caused" (first quote) versus "shows an association" (second quote). I am worried answers will get hung up on the shifting claim. Would you be satisfied with the weakest claim - i.e. that there is an association?
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Nov 16, 2017 at 17:36
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    @Oddthinking I'll be happy with any answer if the authors are clear about what the distinctions you mention.
    – matt_black
    Commented Nov 16, 2017 at 18:38
  • Let us continue this discussion in chat.
    – reirab
    Commented Nov 18, 2017 at 5:11

1 Answer 1


That new report (Effects of health and social care spending constraints on mortality in England: a time trend analysis) is absolutely in line of prior research. The mortality rises across the board with causes ranging from neglect to infectious diseases and to suicides. Like:

Austerity and old-age mortality in England: a longitudinal cross-local area analysis, 2007–2013:

Rising mortality rates among pensioners aged 85 years and over were linked to reductions in spending on income support for poor pensioners and social care. Findings suggest austerity measures in England have affected vulnerable old-age adults.

And this is an effect that's not isolated to the UK. In all countries with austerity measures in effect the same pattern applies:

Financial crisis, austerity, and health in Europe: The financial crisis in Europe has posed major threats and opportunities to health. We trace the origins of the economic crisis in Europe and the responses of governments, examine the effect on health systems, and review the effects of previous economic downturns on health to predict the likely consequences for the present. We then compare our predictions with available evidence for the effects of the crisis on health. Whereas immediate rises in suicides and falls in road traffic deaths were anticipated, other consequences, such as HIV outbreaks, were not, and are better understood as products of state retrenchment. Greece, Spain, and Portugal adopted strict fiscal austerity; their economies continue to recede and strain on their health-care systems is growing. Suicides and outbreaks of infectious diseases are becoming more common in these countries, and budget cuts have restricted access to health care. By contrast, Iceland rejected austerity through a popular vote, and the financial crisis seems to have had few or no discernible effects on health. Although there are many potentially confounding differences between countries, our analysis suggests that, although recessions pose risks to health, the interaction of fiscal austerity with economic shocks and weak social protection is what ultimately seems to escalate health and social crises in Europe. Policy decisions about how to respond to economic crises have pronounced and unintended effects on public health, yet public health voices have remained largely silent during the economic crisis.

This is especially gruesome in countries that were hit the hardest, not by economic crisis in itself, but by the insane "countermeasures" they were forced to adopt. Greece being a much bleaker example than Portugal:

EU Austerity Killing Greece. Report Shows Suicide, Infant Death, And Mental Illness On The Rise

To increase the perceived exactness with statistical analysis:

The Impact of Fiscal Austerity on Suicide Mortality: Evidence across the 'Eurozone Periphery': Specifically, fiscal austerity has short-, medium- and long-run suicide increasing effects on the male population in the 65-89 age group. A 1% reduction in government spending is associated with an 1.38%, 2.42% and 3.32% increase in the short-, medium- and long-run, respectively, of male suicides rates in the 65-89 age group in the Eurozone periphery. These results are highly robust to alternative measures of fiscal austerity.

This is no surprise. Recessions increase mortality, austerity amplifies this twofold: first directly and second by prolonging the recession. Everyone should have known, at least since the Great Depression that strangling a struggling economy is the stupidest idea to set into action. States as creditors or lenders of last resort do not function like private households. Further enraging is that the simple fact that those people and institutions that caused this mess are not those who pay the cost. This austerity is not trying to clean up debt by going where the money is – in form of debt assets. This austerity just goes where the least resistance is expected. That hits the lower classes twice: for paying the debts off – twice and continued – and then again by making the vulnerable just exiting the world a little bit earlier than expected. That is evidenced in every economic crisis that is analysed. Great Depression, communisms collapse, East Asia's Tiger meltdown, and the list continues… (From Mark Blythe: "Austerity: the history of a dangerous idea", Oxford University Press: Oxford New York, 2013.)

This is also comprehensively analysed with a focus on health in David Stuckler & Sanjay Basu: "The Body Economic – Why Austerity Kills. Recessions, Budget Battles, and the Politics of Life and Death", Basic Books, New York, 2013, p140:

Had the austerity experiments been governed by the same rigorous standards as clinical trials, they would have been discontinued long ago by a board of medical ethics. The side effects of the austerity treatment have been severe and often deadly. The benefits of the treatment have failed to materialize. Instead of austerity, we should enact evidence-based policies to protect health during hard times. Social protection saves lives. If administered correctly, these programs don’t bust the budget, but—as we have shown through-out this book—they boost economic growth and improve public health.
Austerity’s advocates have ignored evidence of the health and economic consequences of their recommendations. They ignore it even though—as with the International Monetary Fund—the evidence often comes from their own data. Austerity’s proponents, such as British Prime Minister David Cameron, continue to write prescriptions of austerity for the body economic, in spite of evidence that it has failed.

Central points from this book are condensed here: How Austerity Kills. Austerity has consistently disastrous outcomes and still being uphold because austerity is equated with virtue and therefore much easier to sell to the voters. Since there are alternatives like default, haircuts, financial repression etc. Why keep saying there is no alternative? "Actually, there’s been class warfare going on for the last 20 years, and my class has won."


The exact number of 120 000 preventable deaths extra is very hard to ascertain. But austerity policy kills. Austerity: a failed experiment on the people of Europe:

Many governments in Europe, either of their own volition or at the behest of the international financial institutions, have adopted stringent austerity policies in response to the financial crisis. By contrast, the USA launched a financial stimulus. The results of these experiments are now clear: the American economy is growing and those European countries adopting austerity, including the UK, Ireland, Greece, Portugal and Spain, are stagnating and struggling to repay rising debts. An initial recovery in the UK was halted once austerity measures hit. However, austerity has been not only an economic failure, but also a health failure, with increasing numbers of suicides and, where cuts in health budgets are being imposed, increasing numbers of people being unable to access care. Yet their stories remain largely untold. Here, we argue that there is an alternative to austerity, but that ideology is triumphing over evidence.

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    I was initially very skeptical of this answer, but then I realized that ALL of your sources were taken from scientific literature. I think it would be worth explicitly pointing that out. Commented Nov 16, 2017 at 18:05
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    May I suggest you add this quote (from the article you linked) on the Greece part "Citing OECD data of 2013, the BoG underlines that 79% of the population in Greece was not covered with insurance and therefore without medical and medicine due to long-term unemployment, while self-employed could not afford to pay their social contributions."? I found the 79% figure shocking. I do agree with @kingledion that it's hard to separate recession from austerity in terms of such effects. Commented Nov 16, 2017 at 19:56
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    what about X ppl died during period T. Without austerity policy, we estimated (with method M) that Y ppl would have died during that period. X-Y=120 000. AFAIU, that's how the claim in the question should be understood. And answers should concentrate on the fiability of method M.
    – Evargalo
    Commented Nov 17, 2017 at 10:26
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    I don’t see the relevance of this answer, given that all numbers are comparing rates, i.e. deaths within a given period; this effectively accounts for precisely the problem posed in this answer. Commented Nov 17, 2017 at 12:13
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    Do any of these studies estimate the number of deaths that would result from NOT having an austerity policy, i.e. from increasing the national debt and the proportion of future government income that has to be spent on servicing the debt rather than on health and education? Commented Nov 18, 2017 at 22:26

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