Monday, April 29, 2013

How Austerity Is Literally Killing People

Austerity in the United States and Europe isn’t just placing an unnecessary drag on economic growth that has harmed the global economic recovery from the Great Recession. The rapid deficit reduction efforts are also making people less healthy, causing higher rates of suicide, depression, and infectious disease, according to research from Oxford University economist David Stuckler and Stanford University medical professor Sanjay Basu.

HIV rates have risen 200 percent in Greece as it has cut its HIV prevention budget, and the country also suffered its first malaria outbreak in decades after budget cuts to mosquito-related programs. Increased unemployment has led to higher rates of suicide and depression across the continent, and the United States is seeing the effects as well, Reuters reports:

And more than five million Americans have lost access to healthcare during the latest recession, they argue, while in Britain, some 10,000 families have been pushed into homelessness by the government’s austerity budget.

“Our politicians need to take into account the serious – and in some cases profound – health consequences of economic choices,” said David Stuckler, a senior researcher at Oxford University and co-author The Body Economic: Why Austerity Kills

“The harms we have found include HIV and malaria outbreaks, shortages of essential medicines, lost healthcare access, and an avoidable epidemic of alcohol abuse, depression and suicide,” he said in a statement. “Austerity is having a devastating effect.“

The United States has seen multiple outbreaks of foodborne illnesses in the last three years while budget cuts have targeted food safety and inspection agencies, and the first major modernization of its food safety laws was hamstrung by spending cuts. Education cuts have hit school lunch and other nutrition programs. Other deficit reduction efforts have hammered health programs. And those problems are only going to get worse as sequestration — the automatic budget cuts implemented on March 1 — continue to take effect.

Sequestration includes devastating cuts to medical research programs and food inspection services. It includes cuts to the nation’s already-ailing mental health programs. It has already left medical clinics unable to treat cancer patients, and it includes cuts that will make President Obama’s sweeping health reform law harder to implement. And it also cuts low-income housing and homelessness programs, making it harder for people to find affordable shelter.

At the same time, austerity has come at the direct expense of economic growth that would actually improve lives. With unemployment persistently high (and borrowing costs low), the United States and its European counterparts should be focusing on investments that would help spur growth and restore their economies to full capacity. Europe is at least hinting that it will turn away from austerity. But in the United States, which initially pursued stimulus and growth, Congress remains focused on deficit reduction that isn’t just hurting growth but is harming peoples’ health too.

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