I was out for a drink in Glasgow recently (I know, not a good start for a health blog!) and bumped into a group of psychiatric nurses I used to represent in Glasgow hospitals. We got chatting about work and the impact of the recession on their job. They could all give examples of patients who had been admitted to hospital with a range of mental health conditions linked to their changed economic circumstances. A CPN told me of a patient in the community who lost his volunteering role and other support and is now back in an acute ward.
There has been plenty of analysis of the economic and social impacts of austerity economics, but much less on the disastrous effects on human health. Cutting key public services at a time when people need them most. As a result many countries, including the UK, have turned their recessions into veritable epidemics, ruining or extinguishing thousands of lives in a misguided attempt to balance budgets and shore up financial markets. Yet sound alternative policies could instead help improve economies and protect public health at the same time.
This is charted by public health experts David Stuckler and SanjayBasu in their provocative book, ‘The Body Economic, Why Austerity Kills’. Through extensive data and case studies they show how government policy becomes a matter of life and death during financial crises. Clive Cookson’s review in the Financial Times sums this up well:
“Austerity kills – and on a grand scale. So argue David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu in The Body Economic, a powerful attack on efforts to curb public spending since the financial crisis, which holds belt-tightening politicians responsible for a health catastrophe.... [B]y telling the stories of individual victims of austerity as well as analyzing its impact at the population level,Stuckler and Basu provide a wealth of evidence that it is bad for our health. That is a valuable contribution to the current debate.”
The charts below illustrate just one example of their analysis. You might think this is a heavy data read and not for me. But the case studies help to break up the data and make this a very readable book. Try it.