UK researchers have conducted a novel study indicating that reductions in England’s local government funding have potentially influenced declines in life expectancy.
The study, led by researchers at the University of Liverpool, has identified a correlation between diminishing life expectancy in some regions of England and cutbacks in local government funding in the areas, with the life expectancy even stalling before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Austerity and mortality
The longitudinal ecological study, titled ‘Local government funding and life expectancy in England’, is published in The Lancet Public Health and examines the relationship between local government funding data from the Ministry of Housing, Communities, and Local Government with mortality and life expectancy data between 2013 and 2017 from Public Health England.
Dr Alexandros Alexiou, the corresponding author of the study, said: “Since 2010, large reductions in funding for local government services have been introduced in England, which led to the reduced provision of health-promoting public services. We wanted to investigate whether areas that showed a greater decline in funding also had more adverse trends in life expectancy and premature mortality. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, stalling life expectancy in England was a major public health concern, and the causes were unclear.
“Our research shows that cuts to local government over recent years have probably cost lives. We found that, during a period of large reductions in funding for local government in England, areas that experienced the greatest cuts also experienced slower improvements or a decline in life expectancy. As funding for the most deprived areas decreased to a greater extent, they experienced the most adverse impact – widening health inequalities. This has important implications for current policy and for recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Impacts of local government funding cuts
Between 2013 and 2017, central funding to local government’s fell by 33%, equating to £168 per person, with each £100 decrease in funding per person being attributable to 1.3 months decrease in life expectancy for males and 1.2 months for females. The study signified that local government funding reductions were more significant in more deprived areas, severely affecting these regions, making the gap in life expectancy between those locations and more affluent areas more pronounced.
The team estimate that slashing funding has increased the gap in life expectancy between the most and least deprived by 3% for men and 4% for women, with the combined reductions in funding associated with an extra 9600 deaths in people under the age of 75.
Dr Alexiou said: “Our study suggests that reduced funding for local services that disproportionally affected deprived areas have had a significant impact on health. The UK government has declared that austerity is over and has committed to investing more to ‘level up’ those places that have previously been ‘left behind’. Fair and equitable investment in local government services can redress these inequalities, enabling the country to ‘build back better’.”