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Austerity is leading to death. It's as stark as that

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The disturbing prospect of austerity having contributed to rising female death rates is raised by a new analysis by one of the country’s most respected directors of public health.

The research by Blackburn with Darwen BC’s Dominic Harrison pinpoints 29 areas as meeting two criteria to demonstrate reduced female life expectancies. Seaside towns, post-industrial areas and prosperous places with large populations of retired people are among those seeing lower life expectancies. In contrast, the list features not a single London borough, the type of council that has been most buffered (by less unfair funding and buoyant local economies) from the worst ravages of austerity.

Mr Harrison has been cautious not to overinterpret the findings but nevertheless fears life expectancy is “going backwards” in “economically challenged places”. He said this raised political questions about “decreasing economies and the fair distribution of resources”.

His ‘rapid review’ is the latest evidence of the disastrous impact of austerity. It was supposed to secure the future of the country for coming generations but is actually destroying the progress younger people had a right to inherit from the old. Affordable tertiary educations, high quality housing for all and local bus transport are among the casualties of austerity, alongside investment in skills, properly staffed and fairly paid public sector jobs, and a society that is geared to care for its oldest and youngest most vulnerable residents.

The public sector is in crisis; so many of the things that have made Britain compassionate are in decline. If the NHS and social care are underfunded, it has the impact of decreasing life expectancy – which would have been farcical only a few years ago.

Mr Harrison’s review comes as research by Pixel Financial Management gives further indication of the relative impacts of austerity on different types of council.

Counties, in particular, are dipping into their reserves to pay for the services of today with the resources intended for tomorrow. However, this is true of all classes of authority. Without a bigger cake councils will be left to fight for bigger slicesnat the expense of counterparts elsewhere. If you penalise London in the fairer funding review, quite possibly some of its council areas will see higher death rates in a decade’s time.

Austerity is simply unsustainable. And the government is too weak to do anything to change course, no matter what evidence of austerity’s disastrous consequences emerges. Far from providing future generations with a sustainable public sector, it is leaving them with a diminished legacy of poorer health, diminished opportunity and reduced compassion.

The time has come for intense debate about the role of the public sector and how it should be financed. Councils need to be at the centre of this debate, fighting for empowered, bold and fairly funded local services. Local authorities are not dull collections of officials: they are the people and the services upon which progress depends in an area. Without a properly funded local public sector, people die – it’s a simple as that.

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