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Austerity Makes You Sick

22 Aug 2012

Austerity is a bad thing. As I’ve pointed out before, when an economy is suffering from lower demand, the last thing you want to do is squeeze the pocketbooks of the very people who you want to have out there spending money. But, here’s another thing: it makes you sick. Literally.

So, say a group of doctors who have looked at the madness of austerity sweeping through Europe. The doctors— Martin McKee, Marina Karanikolos, Paul Belcher and David Stuckler—found that:

However, austerity has been not only an economic failure, but also a health failure, with increasing numbers of suicides and, where cuts in health budgets are being imposed, increasing numbers of people being unable to access care. Yet their stories remain largely untold. Here, we argue that there is an alternative to austerity, but that ideology is triumphing over evidence.


For many months, the political and financial aspects of the crisis have filled the headlines. However, behind those headlines, there are many individual human stories that remain untold. They include people with chronic diseases unable to access life sustaining medicines, persons with rare diseases who are losing income support and forced to care for themselves, and those whose hopes of a better life in the future have been dashed see no alternative but to commit suicide. So far, the discussion has been limited to finance ministers and their counterparts in the international financial institutions. Health ministers have failed to get a seat at the table. As a consequence, the impact on the health and well-being of ordinary people was barely considered until they made their feelings clear at the ballot box.

I would add a more specific observation not touched on by the doctors, with the caveat that I could only play a doctor on television. The depression people feel has to be about the feeling that, hey, “I had nothing to do with this crisis, it was brought on by greedy bankers but you are blaming me for it and making me pay the costs”. There has to be an element of anger, frustration and despair.

This is all relevant to what we see happening in Australia. True, austerity is not the order of the day. But, when The Coalition and its business allies are, every day, telling people productivity isn’t high enough and its the fault of workers — even though the productivity crisis is a myth—and, when those same forces, The Coalition and its business allies, attack relentlessly the Fair Work framework — even though that Fair Work framework has benefited people throughout the country— it is not a big leap forward to a society where the health of our work workers declines because of the stress they feel at work.

Remember, forty percent of Australians are shackled with insecure work. That makes for a landscape that will hurt people—not just in their bank accounts but in their physical well-being.