Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The cost of austerity

In May last year, Portugal reached a deal for a bailout from the IMF and European Central Bank. The bailout of course came with conditions: cuts, austerity, and privatisation. Now the cost of those cuts is becoming apparent: dead people.

There is a chart on the wall beside a machine that accepts credit cards. It shows the charges for seeing a doctor in one of western Europe's poorest countries, where opposition politicians blame budget cuts for a thousand extra deaths in February, 20% more than usual.

"They hiked the fees in January," said the receptionist, pointing to the new charges for everything from jabs and ear washes to having stitches removed. "Now a visit to the emergency room costs €20 instead of €9. A consultant costs €7.50. People are angry."

The health service is just one victim of sweeping cuts and increased charges for public services across Portugal.

Its a similar story in Greece, where German-imposed austerity has seen a resurgance in HIV and malaria (because needle-exchange programmes and hospitals were cut), and is expected to lead to a significant rise in infant mortality. Which is what happens when you cut healthcare and price it out of the reach of ordinary people.

It will take years before we have the proper numbers on this from an excess death study. But there's little doubt that these cuts will lead to tens of thousands of deaths in each country. And every one of those deaths can be laid at the feet of the foreign bankers demanding their pound of flesh. What they are doing to Greece and Portugal constitutes mass-murder on a vast scale. And they need to be held to account for it.