Public Health in Europe During the Austerity Years

Nov 29, 2017 | REPORTS

This report explores the relationship between austerity policies and public health across Europe.

While there has been much debate about the relative success of austerity in terms of supporting economic growth and controlling spending, its direct impact on health has not been as widely explored, particularly at the international level.

Using cross-national data and evidence from individual countries, this report charts the evolution of austerity across the continent, the subsequent changes to health systems and health outcomes, before seeking to unpick the specific channels through which austerity may have impacted health during this period. It indicates that progress on a number of key health indicators has stalled, including life expectancy and mortality rates.

Levels of subjective health have fallen among young people aged 15 – 24 across Europe, and in all age-groups in the UK. In the UK, improvements to mortality rates fell by 63% during the austerity years (2009; 13) compared to the preceding years (2004 – 08), and progress in life expectancy stalled during the same period. By comparison, improvements to mortality slowed by 26% across Europe, while progress in life expectancy remained stable.

Cuts to preventative medicine in England, such as tobacco control programmes and sexual health services, were highlighted as austerity measures which could impact the health of young people decades into the future. Experts have suggested that preventative medicine has been the casualty of austerity measures as their impact is less visible to the public than cuts on hospitals and GPs.

In order to explore the impact of austerity on health, this report is structured in six chapters:

Chapter 1 provides a potted history of the financial crisis and road to pan-European austerity.

Chapter 2 explores the types of austerity policies undertaken by different countries with a specific focus
on health systems.

Chapter 3 outlines health outcomes in the austerity years and compares them with the years before
austerity was implemented.

Chapter 4 presents the findings of our empirical model which explores the statistical associations
between austerity and health during an economic downturn.

Chapter 5 reveals our review of literature and evidence on austerity and health in four countries: Greece,
Spain, Ireland and the UK.

Chapter 6 concludes the report and presents our considered view on the success/failure of austerity
with regard to health outcomes.

George Holley-Moore, Research and Policy Manager at ILC-UK said:

‘This study paints a mixed picture, with some worrying health outcomes such as a fall in subjective health here in the UK, as well as a reduction in prevention spending and rise in unmet medical needs across Europe.

But with ageing populations and increasing prevalence of chronic conditions, European health systems do not need stagnation, they need continual improvement. If the best austerity can offer is health systems that are just about treading water, that will not be enough to meet the immense challenges of increased longevity. We should take heed of these early warning signs and initiate measures to protect our future health.”


Report authors: Ben Franklin, Dean Hochlaf and George Holley-Moore