Basu and Stuckler on the Rise in Suicide in Britain due to Austerity

Body Economic Pic

A few days ago, I blogged about the book The Body Economic: Why Austerity Kills, by the medical researchers David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu. This book examines how recessions and austerity programmes affect people’s health. Where governments invest in social security safety nets and a welfare state, public health can even improve during a recession. Where they don’t, and actually cut services, public health can decline disastrously.

In one chapter, they discuss schemes piloted in Sweden in actively getting people back to work, concluding that these have had a real, positive effect in maintaining that country’s health when it suffered the recession. They contrast the experience of the Scandinavia countries, with Britain, where MPs were uninterested in implementing similar reforms over here, and made matters worse by cutting the welfare state and support for industry. They write

With all of this evidence accumulating I favor of ALMPs (Swedish-style ‘back to work’ programmes), we were eager to translate these data into practice. After we published our research in 2009 about the benefits of ALMPs, we were invited to the British House of Commons and the Swedish Parliament to present our date and recommendations.

The responses were remarkable – that is, remarkably dissimilar-in the two countries. When presented with the data that unemployment led to a rise in suicides, and that ALMPs could help mitigate the risks, the Swedish members of Parliament were unsurprised. One member asked: “Why are telling us what we already know?” But when we presented the same data in the UK, in July 2009, to the House of Commons, the reaction was that the government was “already doing all it could to reduce unemployment.”

When the Conservative government came into power in 2010, the UK response became even worse. In 2012, the British Medical Journal published our paper showing that UK suicides had risen by more than 1,000 between 2007 and 2010 above pre-existing trends, corresponding to the continued rise in unemployment. Reporters soon contacted the UK Department of Health for a response. it’s spokesman told the Independent newspaper: “Losing a loved one [tpo suicide] can be devastating and we want to make sure that we are doing all we can to prevent suicide by giving people the right support when they need it most. We will shortly be publishing our new suicide prevention strategy, which brings together expertise across healthcare, criminal justice and transport to maintain or even decrease the current rates of suicide.” This sounded encouraging. But then the Health Department spokesman continued: “However, suicide rates in England have been at a historical low and remain unchanged since 2005. The department uses three-year rolling averages for monitoring purposes, in order to avoid focusing unnecessarily on fluctuations instead of the underlying trend.”

By now, this tactic should sound familiar: averaging-out deaths is the same the technique The Economist used to cover up death rates in Russia. When using rolling averages, any large jump in death rates can seem like a smooth bump in the road instead of a shocking spike (indeed, the Department appeared to have chosen the three-year period specifically for this end, instead of some other date range like five years). The Department’s comments were criticised by several university professors and statisticians, after which the statement quickly disappeared from their Internet webpage.

If it wanted to help its people, the British government could learn much from Sweden’s experience. The UK would of course need to invest more in ALMPs and stop job losses from happening. but the Conservative government was doing precisely the opposite: austerity was creating an active labour-destroying programme. The data revealed that the austerity programme cut public-sector jobs in the most deprived regions of the country. Moreover, it was implementing policies that made it easier for the private sector to lay off people during the recession. As one unusually blunt 2010 report commissioned by the government explained, “some people will be dismissed simply because their employer doesn’t like them,” but argued that this is a “price worth paying” to boost the economy, though the logic of how mass unemployment would drive economic growth was left unexplained.

The consequences of the UK’s real-world experiment with austerity soon became tragically apparent in its suicide data. As in the US, the Great Recession in the UK featured an initial spike in unemployment and job losses in 2007. As employment began to recover in 2009, suicides began to fall. But the following year, when the Conservative government came to power, the UK began a massive austerity programme, which in 2012 alone cut 270,000 public-sector jobs. The UK then experienced a second wave of “austerity suicides” in 2012. (pp. 119-121).

This is a savage indictment of the stupidity, callousness and sheer, culpable cruelty behind the Tories austerity programme. And numerous bloggers, from Stilloaks, Tom Pride, Mike over at Vox Political, Another Angry Voice, DPAC, Johnny Void and so many, many others have blogged about the people behind the deaths, many of whom took their lives because of the government’s daft regime of benefit sanctions.

It’s time to end this grotesque charade of murderous neoliberal policies, justified with lies, and get rid of the Tories and their counterparts in the parliamentary Labour party. That’s if we want a happier, healthier and more prosperous Britain, not a country of burdened wage-slaves, deceived and exploited for the benefit of the corporate elite.

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7 Responses to “Basu and Stuckler on the Rise in Suicide in Britain due to Austerity”

  1. Jeffrey Davies Says:

    http://blacktrianglecampaign.org/2016/04/06/mo-stewart-the-takeover-by-the-u-s-private-medical-insurance-industry-of-the-uk-welfare-state/

  2. joanna Says:

    What are ALMP’s please? I have tried looking it up but can’t find anything?

    • beastrabban Says:

      It’s a term Basu and Stuckler use in their book for the Swedish welfare reforms intended to get people back into work. The initials stand for Active Labour Market Programme.

      • joanna Says:

        I’m sorry Beast I am a little dense today, what I meant to ask is, what is the Swedish way and why does it seem to work?
        This government should all be fired because they aren’t “working” for us, they are working against us.

    • beastrabban Says:

      That’s a very good question. In the book, Basu and Stuckler describe a system where, once you lose your job, you’re automatically enrolled with the jobcentre. You’re then assigned a personal advisor to help you back into work, and ever six weeks they call you in for an interview to see how your job search is going. This sounds similar to the British system of job interviews and searches, but something must be different. In Britain, the system seems designed to degrade and humiliate, to put people off claiming benefit, not to help them into work. And the result is the massive suicide rate and incidence of despair in contemporary Britain, something which seems to be absent from the Swedish system.

  3. conartistocracy Says:

    Reblogged this on Citizens, not serfs.

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