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The true cost of austerity

The hard-hitting findings of a new study sheds light on the social impact of devastating spending cuts.

Last Modified: 01 May 2013 10:54
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Austerity is a term that has become synonymous with spending cuts and tax increases; with strict measures to rein in government debt, often accompanied by economic pain and suffering.

Opinion on the success or otherwise of this policy remains deeply divided but new research is now suggesting it is taking a devastating toll on the health and well-being of millions of people across Europe and North America.

While recessions pose risks to health, it is austerity that can turn them lethal ... in the worst case in Europe, we have seen in Greece where austerity is breeding a series of public health disasters.

David Stuckler, co-author of  The Body Economic: Why Austerity Kills

The joint British and US-led research says more than 10,000 suicides have been recorded during what they call 'The Great Recession'.

And as many as a million cases of depression have been diagnosed - that is a rise of 10 percent. It says five million Americans have lost access to healthcare while 10,000 families in Britain have lost their homes.

HIV rates in Greece have risen by more than 200 percent since 2011, because of cuts in funding. And the research suggests rising unemployment is pushing more young people to take drugs.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has been uncompromising in its stand on austerity. The IMF's managing director, Christine Lagarde, told Greeks last year not to expect any sympathy.

She said: "I think more of the little kids from a school in a little village in Niger who get teaching two hours a day, sharing one chair for three of them ... they need even more help than the people in Athens. As far as Athens is concerned, I also think about all those people who are trying to escape tax all the time. They should also help themselves collectively ... by all paying their tax."

But now there are signs of a softening stance. Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, says the focus on austerity has hit, "the limits of public acceptance".

He said: "Socially and politically, one policy that is only seen as austerity is, of course, not sustainable. We haven't done everything right .… The policy has reached its limits because it has to have a minimum of political and social support."

Joining Ghida Fakhry on  this Inside Story,  to discuss the report are guests: David Stuckler, co-author of the research and book The Body Economic: Why Austerity Kills; Aris Sissouras, from the Institute of Social Policy in Greece; and George Kratsas, an economist and specialist on EU regulations.

"Austerity is not necessarily evil, as long as it is applied with a purpose. I do agree it has an intense social cost - [but] it must be pointed out that the ones that have been proposed and the ones that have been imposed are aimed to have the least possible impact on the healthcare sector and they are more [focused] on the quality of the healthcare that Greek citizens receive and are more directed to address waste."

George Kratsas, an economist, University College, London

 

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Source:
Al Jazeera
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