The growing gulf in life expectancy shows how austerity has deepened inequalities

The prime minister vowed to fight health injustice. These new figures must be a wake-up call

“In Glasgow, in the course of the seven-stop trip south-east from Jordanhill to Bridgeton, the average male life expectancy drops from 75.8 years to 61.9 years. In Newcastle upon Tyne, adults living near the airport can hope to remain free of disease and disability – to enjoy healthy life – until just before they turn 75. But a few miles east in Byker that enviable period typically ends before the official retirement age, at just 63.8 years”

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People are dying as a result of austerity

As we move towards the general election, we are paralyzed by what is probably the biggest single issue affecting ordinary people in the country: austerity. We are unable to fully understand both the economic madness of austerity and the true scale of the human cost and death toll that ‘fiscal discipline’ has unleashed.

Since coming into power as Prime Minister, Theresa May has made a strategic decision not to use the word ‘austerity’. Instead she has adopted a more palatable language in a vain attempt to distance herself from the Cameron governments before her: “you call it austerity; I call it living within our means.”

The experience of countless thousands of people is precisely the opposite: people are actively prevented from living within their means and are cut off from their most basic entitlement to: housing, food, health care, social care and general protection from hardship. And people are dying as a result of these austerity effects. In February, Jeremy Corbyn made precisely this point when he observed the conclusions of one report that 30,000 people were dying unnecessarily every year because of the cuts to NHS and to local authority social care budgets.

But this is really only the tip of the iceberg. The scale of disruption felt by people at the sharp end of these benefit reforms is enormous.  Countless thousands of others have died prematurely following work capability assessments: approximately 10,000 according the government’s own figures. People are dying as a result of benefit sanction which has fatal impacts on existing health conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease.

Austerity is about dismantling social protection. The crisis we face in social care is precipitated by cuts to local authority funding.  In the first 5 years of austerity, local authority budgets were cut by 40%, amounting to an estimated £18bn in care provision.

A decade of cuts, when added up, also means that some key agencies that protect us, such as the Health and Safety Executive and the Environment Agency will have been decimated by up to 60% of funding cuts. Scaling back on an already paltry funding in these critical areas of regulation will lead to a rise in pollution related illness and disease and will fail to ensure people are safe at work.

The economic folly is that austerity will cost society more in the long term.  Local authorities are, for example, housing people in very expensive temporary accommodation because the government has disinvested in social housing.  The crisis in homelessness has paradoxically led to a £400 million rise in benefit payments.   The future costs of disinvesting in young people will be seismic.

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UK’s austerity welfare spending is closer to poorest nations of EU

Its compatriots in the austerity camp are Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Ireland, Greece, Hungary and Romania.

Britain’s version of austerity is more aligned to the poorest nations of the European Union, according to figures from Brussels which reveal the UK was the only rich EU country to cut welfare spending as a proportion of GDP between 2011 and 2014.

France, Germany and Italy increased spending on welfare, as did the Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden and Denmark, Luxembourg, Finland and Austria. Even Portugal, Spain, Slovakia and Poland marginally increased the proportion of national income they spend on welfare.

France pushed spending from 32.7% to 34.3% and Germany raised the level from 28.6% to 29.1%, while Italy managed to commit 30% in 2014 compared with 28.5% in 2011.

But the UK cut the amount it spends on what Eurostat calls social protection (as a proportion of GDP) over the four years from 29.1% to 27.4%.

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The day after a quarter of a million people marched in London against austerity, the government has confirmed it will cut £12 billion in welfare.

Despite opponents’ hopes the cuts would be watered down, Chancellor George Osborne and Work And Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith confirmed the budget and the autumn spending review would include measures to bring the welfare budget down.

They said welfare spending had been allowed to “spiral so far out of control” and they said their announcement was the beginning of a decade-long project to “return the system to sanity”.

Writing in The Sunday Times (£), Osborne and Duncan Smith said: “This government was elected with a mandate to implement further savings from the £220 billion welfare budget. For a start, we will reduce the benefit cap, and have made clear that we believe we need to make significant savings from other working-age benefits.

“We will set out in detail all the steps we will take to bring about savings totalling £12 billion a year in next month’s budget and at the spending review in the autumn.

“It took many years for welfare spending to spiral so far out of control, and it’s a project of a decade or more to return the system to sanity.

“Reforming the damaging culture of welfare dependency and ensuring that work pays has been central to our mission to make Britain fit for the future.”

They also attacked Labour for creating a system that “incentivised people to live a life on benefits — something that was bad for them, bad for their families, and bad for the hardworking taxpayers who were footing the bill.”

Speaking last month, Shadow Work And Pensions Secretary Rachel Reeves said: “Families with children will lose out from the Tory plan to cut £12 billion from welfare, with tax credits and child benefit in the firing line.

“For months David Cameron and George Osborne have ducked questions about which families, children and disabled people will be hit by their £12 billion welfare cut. It’s time for the government to come clean about the impact of their cuts plan on millions of families, children and disabled people.”

Labour leadership candidate Andy Burnham told Sky News the scale of the cuts was “disgraceful”.

He said: “He didn’t spell out (where the cuts would come from) and he’s still not spelling it out now… He’s frightening vulnerable people and that is wrong.”

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Worst 5 years for living standards in 50 years

New analysis shows that the Tory-led, pro-austerity coalition has presided over the worst 5-year period for living standards in over half a century

The latest economic figures published today also show that far from experiencing a strong recovery the UK is now experiencing the slowest rate – just 0.3% – of quarterly growth since the end of 2012.

The TUC says 2010-2014 is unique in seeing a drop in real household disposable incomes, which combine wages, benefits, taxes and inflation.

It is the worst 5-year period for living standards for at least half a century (directly comparable records begin in 1960).

RHDI – a yardstick of living standards that takes account of incomes, benefits, taxes and inflation – was 0.6% lower in the half-decade ending in 2014 than in the 5 years ending in 2009, when it rose by 6.9%.

Austerity to blame

The TUC says this provides further evidence that the government’s austerity programme, which began in 2010, is more to blame for the loss of living standards than the financial crisis that preceded it. The government’s deep and rapid cuts killed off the recovery, causing growth to flat-line and wages to remain in decline for years longer than official forecasts.
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Whose recovery?: Gendered austerity in the UK

The impact of government spending cuts, combined with structural sexism in the UK, means that for British women, news of an economic recovery means nothing to their daily lives, says Dawn Foster.

Austerity is here to stay for the foreseeable future, British Conservative and Labour politicians have admitted. Meanwhile, the ongoing effects of public sector cuts, benefit sanctions, combined with the recession are continuing to reverse women’s position in society. The most vulnerable women have been affected by the abolition of council tax benefit, which has seen thousands of the country’s poorest in court, facing rising court costs and debts, bailiffs and ultimately prison.

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Britain accused of breaching European treaty with austerity cuts to councils

Council of Europe finds local authorities unable to provide essential services – a breach of self-government charter

Deep austerity cuts are crippling local councils and have put Britain in breach of its international obligations, the Council of Europe has said.

Official rapporteurs found local authorities do “not have adequate financial resources” and this is likely to “get worse in years to come”, meaning the UK is not compliant with the European charter of local self-government.

In its first report on UK local government for 15 years, the Council of Europe said councils are severely restricted in their ability to provide “essential public services”, including health, social and elderly care, especially to the “growing number of older people”. It blamed “austerity measures placed on local government”, after its examiners visited London, Leeds, Edinburgh, and Cardiff. The delegation found local government is “faring worse” than national governments and other parts of the public sector.

The conclusions of the report were strongly supported by the Local Government Association. Its chairman Sir Merrick Cockell said it was a “fair reflection on the current pressures facing local government” as it tries to find £20bn of savings by the end of this parliament. The LGA also endorsed the council’s recommendations for greater devolution of powers to local government, increased tax-raising powers for councils and a fairer funding settlement for English local authorities, compared with Welsh and Scottish ones.

However, Brandon Lewis, the local government minister, rejected the idea that Britain should be bossed around by the Council of Europe and argued the coalition has delivered a fair settlement to every part of the country. “We welcome free debate, but we are not going to take lectures on this from Vladimir Putin’s United Russia,” he said, pointing out that one of the rapporteurs belonged to the party of the Russian president. “Since 2010, public satisfaction with local government has increased. In the coming year councils should stay focused on cutting waste, making sensible savings, modernising frontline services and keeping council tax down.”

The report is one of a number of critical documents from international bodies that have provoked outrage among Tories.

Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, hit out at the “lunacy” of a previous report from the council, which found that the level of benefits given out in the UK is “inadequate”. Ministers have previously condemned UN reports criticising the bedroom tax and David Cameron’s immigration bill.

However, Britain is obliged to comply with the European Charter of Local Self-Government, a 1988 treaty signed by the 47 members of the Council of Europe.

On Thursday night, Cockell called on the coalition to adopt the report’s recommendations within five years, when the delegation is due to return. “Our European counterparts also identified the urgent need for a fair and equitable distribution of public money across the UK,” he said. “The 34-year-old Barnett formula is short-changing English communities by as much as £4.1bn a year and a needs-based model is needed for a fairer deal.”

by Rowena Mason in the Guardian, 7th March 2014: