Cut Spending, Die Young? NY Times Blames Brexit, ‘Austerity’ for Shorter U.K. Life Spans

August 31st, 2019 6:03 PM

Keep government spending at high levels or die young. That’s the stark choice offered by reporter Stephen Castle in Saturday’s New York Times, “Why Are Britons Living Shorter Lives? – Austerity and Illness begin to Take a Toll.” The online headline deck: “Shortchanged: Why British Life Expectancy Is Falling -- For the first time in modern history, Britons are living shorter lives, with poor lifestyles, depression and budget cuts the leading causes.”

Apparently the paper lacks historical sense, forgetting what actual austerity in Britain was like (not just today’s metaphorical “austerity”) during World War II and even years afterward; for example, sugar (and thus candy) was rationed until 1953.

Castle found sad stories in Hartlepool, England (click "expand"):

Britons are no longer living longer than before. Just ask Callum Hills.

His father died of a heart attack last year at age 52. Mr. Hills had found him stricken on the floor in the middle of the night, and today is still haunted by his memory.

“I keep having dreams, and he’s in them,” said Mr. Hills, a thoughtful and articulate 23-year-old.

While attention is riveted on the Brexit turmoil in Westminster, with dire forecasts of possible chaos, food shortages and recession, a dispiriting trend is already visible in struggling towns and cities across the nation.

For the first time in modern history, Britain’s gains in life expectancy have stalled -- at 79.2 years for men and 82.9 years for women for the years 2015 to 2017. That is better than the United States, but Britain is slipping down the ranks in Western Europe.


Alcohol and drug abuse, poor diet, obesity, smoking and a lack of exercise have taken their toll, increasing the risks of cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Older people are dying prematurely, their conditions worsened by isolation and depression, experts say.

Underlying many of the problems, they say, is the government’s austerity program, which was instituted after the 2008 financial crisis and has eaten away at funding for social programs, transportation and other things that might counter the negative trends.

And of course, Brexit, which the Times blames for everything:

Things have probably not been helped by the chaos in Parliament over Brexit, which has forestalled efforts to come to grips with the growing problems.

Of course, the story was filled with sad anecdotes:

In the town’s pockets of poverty, some lives are ending very prematurely. Gemma Sampson, the vicar at St. Aidan’s Church, said that two regular users of the church’s food bank have died since it opened in 2017.


Such cases are extreme, but the broader trend has upset long-running assumptions. At the sharp end of this is one of Britain’s most cherished, if creaking, institutions: the National Health Service, which many see as an efficient health care provider, particularly by comparison with the United States.

There was some rare (if muted) criticism of Britain’s government-run health service:

But some wonder whether it might, inadvertently, be part of the problem. The N.H.S. focuses more resources on acute care than on preventive measures, mental health and early screening for cancer and other conditions. That, said Michael Marmot, professor of epidemiology at University College London and director of its Institute of Health Equity, reinforces a tendency to favor medical procedures over efforts to combat obesity, smoking, and drug and alcohol dependence.

But Castle diverted back to the blame-austerity narrative (click "expand"):

Several factors influence life expectancy, including an individual’s genetic makeup, inherited disposition to addiction or conditions like diabetes, and behavior.

But the way families, communities and governments shape or mitigate those tendencies matters, too.

The 2010 turning point in mortality statistics coincided with the aftermath of the financial crisis, as Britain reined in public spending.

Danny Dorling, a professor of geography at Oxford University, argues that “the link with austerity is not easy to correlate, but it is incredibly strong.”

Hartlepool’s representative in Parliament, Mike Hill, agrees. “There is no doubt that austerity has hit Hartlepool, and that there is a connection with life expectancy,” said Mr. Hill, a member of the opposition Labour Party.


Others see austerity as an aggravating factor in a complex picture of unhealthy lifestyles compounded by poverty, lack of opportunity and hopelessness.

Demonstarting the barriers the media raise agaisnt any kind of limited-government initiative, the Times has made “austerity in Britain” a recurring buzz phrase. In November 2018 the Times discovered child “hunger” in the United Kingdom and blamed it on “gleeful” austerity by the Conservative Party.

An August 2018 headline read “As Austerity Helps Bankrupt an English County, Even Conservatives Mutiny.

They added a shade of Communist red to the mix in a February 2019 front-page feature on a 19 year-old who hated his job and rejected capitalism appeared under the headline "Growing Up in U.K. and Giving Up on Capitalism.”