A report published by Sir Michael Marmot of University College London raises fear regarding life expectancy in the UK. According to Sir Michael, life expectancy (which has been rising for centuries), has ‘stalled’ since the start of the coalition government in 2010. Marmot blames this in part on the government’s commitment to ‘austerity’ that supposedly resulted in ‘miserly’ level of spending on health and social care and ‘deep cuts’ in NHS and social care spending. It is interesting, though, that Marmot sees this as an issue because our rising life expectancy and aging population is usually thought of as very worrisome as it will put an increasing amount of strain on the resources of the NHS and our economy.
It is a gross exaggeration by Marmot to say that there have been ‘deep cuts’ in the spending on the NHS. In fact, the budget for the Department of Health increases every year, albeit as a slower rate than in previous governments and the levels of spending on health and social care are hardly ‘miserly’. This idea of ‘austerity’ by the government is one that is constantly exaggerated. In fact, the Department of Health recently announced that they were dedicating an extra £6bn to the NHS and £2bn for the social care system. Spending on the NHS has not significantly decreased, in fact the budget has been completely ring-fenced so that it is protected from many (sometimes necessary) cuts. The money that is being wasted by the NHS is what we should be worried about. Billions of pounds are pumped in to the NHS by the government only to be spent on ridiculously high salaries for media consultants and other non-health related positions and futile expenses, for example the cost of computer equipment and services last month at the RCHT was an enormous total of £201,867.41 in just one month; this money should be used to help patients instead. So when we are talking here about ‘austerity’ what we really mean in increasing spending less than before, which is absolutely not the huge cuts by the government that the mainstream media is reporting about. A country like Northern Ireland are the ones who are creating more and more spending cuts and significantly reducing the amount that the government are spending in the public sector.
It simply does not make sense to say that austerity is the cause of the slowing down of the rise in life expectancy. For one thing, life expectancy is still increasing, albeit more slowly than before. The life expectancy for men has risen from 78.7 to 79.6 since 2010 and from 82.6 to 83.1 for women. As it currently, the NHS simply cannot cope with our current population let alone a population that continues to rise. Furthermore, a general commitment by the government to austerity will improve the lives of future generations in the long run. Currently, the UK does not have the means to pay the billions of pounds to back up their commitment to state pensions. They could use the cuts that they have made in other areas and their general reduction in government spending to ensure that they have adequate resources to stay true to their promise they have made to maintain the state pension at the rate at which is it currently and also improves the lives of the older generation by committing money to helping older people remain active, independent and positively engaged with society. For example, the government’s recent announcement that they are going to increase the pension disbursement age faster than originally planned is a good thing for the taxpayer as people will be made to contribute a few years more to the economy before retiring. However, the claim made by Debbie Abrahams that ‘in large parts of the country, the state pension age will be higher than healthy life expectancy’ is simply ludicrous and fear-mongering. Life expectancy, as previously mentioned, is not declining and furthermore, is it simply not plausible that life expectancy will drop down to where it was before the Second World War.
We, as a country, must also look to the future. Austerity means that we will reduce that unbelievable amount of debt that the country is currently facing and stop future generations bearing the brunt of the amount of money spent by the taxpayer as a result of policies put in place by the Blair/Brown government. Austerity is a measure that was originally put into place to fix problems that arose as a result of poor management of the government’s budget so that the government could reallocate means to areas that desperately needed funding and save on areas that did not. We think that austerity, in the way that it is being implemented by the government is something that should be permanent. This does not, however, affect the life expectancy of the British population because just as many measures are being put in place through the policies of austerity to protect the aging population than those that could hurt it.