Friday, May 17, 2013

Austerity kills

Back in 2009, The Spirit Level showed why that cherished right-wing value, inequality, was bad for everyone (including the very rich the right-wing project is supposed to benefit). Now another book has done the same for that cherished right-wing policy, austerity.

The Body Economic by David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu looks at the effects of government austerity on public health. The conclusion? Austerity kills. Arbitrary cuts to health, social services and housing budgets, driven by economists not professionals, have terrible effects. Take Greece:

The consequences have been dramatic. Cuts in HIV-prevention budgets have coincided with a 200% increase in the virus in Greece, driven by a sharp rise in intravenous drug use against the background of a youth unemployment rate now running at more than 50% and a spike in homelessness of around a quarter. The World Health Organisation, Stuckler says, recommends a supply of 200 clean needles a year for each intravenous drug user; groups that work with users in Athens estimate the current number available is about three.

Disease and drug-use aren't the only consequence: Greece has seen a 60% rise in suicides. The US and UK, which have also suffered cuts to health and social services, have had similar (though less extreme) rises (data for New Zealand lags by two years, so we won't see what National has done to us in this department until they're gone).

And it is NeoLiberal austerity to blame. Countries which suffer economic crises but do not make cuts to health and social services budgets do not suffer these effects (and seem to have quicker recoveries as well). The conclusion:
Poorer public health, in other words, is not an inevitable consequence of economic downturns, it amounts to a political choice – by the government of the country concerned or, in the case of the southern part of the eurozone, by the EU, European Central Bank and IMF troika.

Public health - people's lives - should not be sacrificed for the profits of the greedy few. Societies should protect their people, and place the burden of crises on those most able to pay for it: the rich. By doing so, not only will they save lives - they'll also actually do better economically. But somehow, i think its a message that the rich and their servants just don't want to hear.