The path of austerity leads to sickness and death

New research shows government spending cuts have dire health effects. Welcome to malaria outbreaks and a rise in HIV infections.

By Aimee Picchi Apr 30, 2013 12:07PM

Wheelchair (© Image Source/Getty Images/Getty Images)While some believe that austerity measures will help their government return to health, researchers say the spending cutbacks have a seriously bad effect on people, leading to spikes in sickness and death. 

The researchers, Oxford University political economist David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu, an assistant professor of medicine and an epidemiologist at Stanford University, put forward their findings in a book called "The Body Economic: Why Austerity Kills," which will be published next month. 

The pair claim that "many countries 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," according to the book's publisher, Perseus Books' Basic Books.

"Our politicians need to take into account the serious -- and in some cases profound -- health consequences of economic choices," Stuckler said, according to Reuters.

The negative consequences of cutbacks include a jump in Greece's HIV infection, which has more than tripled since 2011 after prevention budgets were cut, according to the U.K.'s Telegraph. And after Athens reduced its budget for mosquito-spraying, the country witnessed its first malaria outbreak in decades. 

Meanwhile, more than 10,000 suicides and up to a million cases of depression have been diagnosed since countries imposed austerity measures following the Great Recession, the book says. 

The researchers' findings are likely to spur debate about the efficacy of austerity plans, especially as they come after the debunking of an influential academic paper that supported cutbacks. 

As I reported earlier this month, a much-cited 2010 study from Harvard professors Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff was found to have serious problems by economists at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, including a spreadsheet flub that mistakenly excluded data from five countries.

While Reinhart and Rogoff asserted that economies shrank in debt-laden countries, the new findings concluded that those countries actually saw growth. 

In the U.S., budget-slicing has led to reduced food for seniors. The Meals on Wheels program says cutbacks will mean a loss of 19 million meals for the elderly, according to the Huffington Post. One Virginia official said his office had reduced the number of people receiving daily meals to 600 from 650, leading to a waiting list -- a first for the organization. 

"Ultimately what we show is that worsening health is not an inevitable consequence of economic recessions. It's a political choice," co-author Basu said in a statement. 

Follow Aimee Picchi on Twitter at @aimeepicchi

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Apr 30, 2013 2:56PM
As a person suffering with late stage breast cancer, I understand the problem of austerity.  I live in the richest country in the world and yet, because I work, pay taxes, am a responsible citizen I am being denied benefits because I make 'too much money' but not enough to actually afford a health insurance premium. Iam the working poor. I have been told by many to quit my job, become indigent to receive benefits.  What good would that do? I am using a system but contributing to the lessening strength of our economic recovery by not keeping my house and by not purchasing goods. There is something wrong when a hardworking, decent human being will die because the 'system' didn't allow for the working poor. Please don't believe what you hear about the American Cancer Society, Susan G. Komen Foundation, etc.  These foundations do not help.  Trust me... I have exhausted every resource and Iam now facing death without any assistance; especially pain medicine which no one will prescribe me because I am not receiving treatment! What a country.
Apr 30, 2013 12:34PM
Well, this is what happens when governments don't manage tax payer money properly.  Debt keeps rising, interest payments on that debt which have to be made keep rising.  Those interest payments keep rising as the debt does, money that used to go back to helping the citizens are clawed back to pay the higher interest payments.  If politicians want to manage taxes properly, they need to start making difficult decisions and cut funding to anything that even remotely seems unnecessary, even if it means losing the next election.  Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country  ....  right?  Or is that another one of those things that the little guy is expected to live up to, but for anyone in position of power/influence, it's ok if they don't.
Apr 30, 2013 1:52PM
We just can not afford more increased spending. We should be cutting costs so the ones that really, truly need help can get it. Not these losers that are on a lifetime of government subsidies, welfare, food assistance, housing vouchers........... Stop this madness.
Apr 30, 2013 1:49PM
Notice how that when Austerity hit people that fly a great deal Congress acted very quickly to stop that pain.
Apr 30, 2013 1:51PM

Staight from the mouth of intelligencia, aka socialists/communists.  If politicians weren't so overwhelmingly focused on getting re-elected, they could enact cuts to things like bloated gov't programs that only exist to give someone cushy job.  Cut the waste in the travel, entertainment personal staff budgets of elected officials.  They could cut the retirement benefit/pensions that were never earned, they were just given to gov't employees, for political support.  Should police and firemen retire with benefits, for life, that are calulated by the average of the last three years worked?  And by the way, it's commonplace for these public servants to work as much overtime as they can during the last three years before retirement, so their retirement amount is larger.  If they retire at 50-55 yrs of age, which is also common, the taxpayer is paying that public "servant" $150,000 -$200,000/year for life, which could be 30 years or more.  Oh, and then they have to pay the new employee who replaced the retiree.  Gov't employees, teachers and education administrators get the same benefit, without the overtime loophole, thank God. 


Austerity doesn't have to lead to any diminished health, politicians design the cuts that way so the public will cry foul.  No one will care if Nancy Pelosi has to fly on a commercial carrier instead of a private jet, but she still flies on private jets at taxpayer expense.  Michelle didn't need to take all of the trips she has taken in the last 4.5 years, and bring along an extensive personal staff with her.  The CBO reported her trip to India cost taxpayers $400,000.  No one will care if she doesn't go on these trips, or just leave  some of her personal staff at home. 


No austerity must cut necessary medical programs first.  Makes a lot of sense.

Apr 30, 2013 4:24PM
Geez, these libtard authors are idiots. Cutting back mosquito control is not like cutting back never ending unemployment and generational welfare to lazy dirtbags. The minority can only carry the load for the rest for so long. The top 25% pay 88% of the income taxes.
Apr 30, 2013 4:09PM
On a scale of stars, with 1 star being worst, and 5 stars being the best, I'd give this article a giant bowl of steaming turds.
Apr 30, 2013 3:51PM
We, as a nation must have our priorities. As long as big bird is still on TV, what else do we need?
Apr 30, 2013 1:17PM

Austerity = Somebody is getting screwed.

This time it is the people's medical care.

Are you for austerity?


That depends on who is getting austered.

If the gov't is austering you, I am OK with that.

I don't care to be austered.  No thanks.

Apr 30, 2013 8:10PM

No question if you slice toan extent that health care is out of reach of the common man you will see added sickness and deaths.Right now I am spending $20,000.00 a year on COBRA.At least another $20,000.00 on Px,s.You can go so long.


Apr 30, 2013 5:38PM
To Kinghtmare966. You have hit the nail on the head. How does anyone pay the outrageous bills of health care in the US? The US has the highest bills for health care in the whole world. That ought to say something about the terrible greed of doctors in this country.
Apr 30, 2013 1:57PM

DUNDERIFIC:Too bad you didn`t read the article.Why don`t you go read Obamacare

and stop bothering us.

Apr 30, 2013 7:42PM
" I love Austerity.
I love austerity....
I love AusteritEEEE!

for ME!"

Apr 30, 2013 1:11PM

The road to perdition is paved with good intentions.

The path to austerity leads to sickness and death.

Apr 30, 2013 1:48PM

"Any economy that needs government spending to survive is already festering and it deserves to die."


Well, that need pretty much describes the American economy. But as for your conclusion: You and al-Qaeda can take it with you to the dustbin and breathe deep.

Apr 30, 2013 4:00PM
USEREASON 760: I see you`re another idiot who didn`t read the article;If you can read.
Apr 30, 2013 12:42PM
Any economy that needs government spending to survive is already festering and it deserves to die. No gain without pain. If the lack of some medical care hastens along the cleansing... so be it.
Apr 30, 2013 12:47PM
A THINKING PERSON would have to agree with this article.
Apr 30, 2013 1:14PM
That should help cure our problems with old age benefits.  If we can plant them instead of continuing to pay them social security pensions and paying their medical bills via Medicare, that ought to make the Social Security and Medicare programs solvent a few more months.
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