Person comparing two different amounts of coin

Wealth and health gap set to increase due to cost of living crisis

BMJ Public Health study reveals that proportion of people dying before age 75 could rise by nearly 6.5%, with people in deprived households most affected
19 October 2023 , Kerry Taylor-Smith

Expert says evidence-based interventions can reduce the impacts of high inflation, but local authorities need “significant additional resources” to address the challenge

The cost of living crisis will likely cause thousands of premature deaths and significantly widen the wealth and health gap between the richest and poorest in the UK, according to a BMJ Public Health study.

The study assessed the impact of inflation on death rates in Scotland in 2022-3, with and without mitigating measures, and revealed the proportion of people dying before reaching 75 could rise by nearly 6.5%, with 30 extra deaths per 100,000 people. Those in the most deprived households will experience a rate four times that of the least deprived.

Researchers used scenario modelling to estimate the effect of recent high inflation on household incomes, as well as how mitigation measures might change these effects, and how death rates, life expectancy, and inequalities would be impacted.

They modelled three scenarios: without any mitigating measures; with the inclusion of the energy price guarantee (EPG); and with the inclusion of the EPG and cost of living support payments, before comparing them against average inflation from previous years to estimate the health effects of each one.

In each scenario, households in the most deprived areas were hardest hit in relative terms, and there was a large increase in deaths because of the real-term reduction in incomes. Without mitigation, inflation could increase deaths by 5% in the least deprived areas and by 23% in the most deprived. An ‘unmitigated’ scenario would see absolute inequality rising by 30% for premature deaths and by 21% for life expectancy; relative inequality would rise by 12% and 23%, respectively.

“Governments should focus on reducing poverty and reversing the austerity policies that have reduced the incomes and services available to those on the lowest incomes…”

“The impacts of austerity and the pandemic are now likely to be compounded by the higher prices being faced by the population, and especially by those living in the most difficult circumstances,” said Gerry McCartney, study co-author and Professor of Wellbeing Economy at the University of Glasgow.

“Governments should focus on reducing poverty and reversing the austerity policies that have reduced the incomes and services available to those on the lowest incomes in order to protect the health of the population.”

Alice Munro, Senior Researcher, UCL Institute of Health Equity and Consultant in Public Health at Somerset Council said, “The cost of living crisis follows a decade of real-terms cuts to benefits and services that have contributed to widening health inequalities between the most and least deprived communities in the UK.  Austerity has left many people vulnerable to the effects of falling real incomes on health. There are evidence-based interventions that can reduce the impacts of high inflation…but most local authorities now require significant additional resources to meet the scale of the challenge.”

Manon Roberts, Senior Policy Officer at Public Health Wales said: “The cost of living crisis is more than a temporary economic squeeze. It is an urgent public health issue that will have negative impacts on the health and wellbeing of the Welsh population both now and into the future.

“A system-wide public health response is urgently needed, both to mitigate the immediate effects of the cost of living crisis and to tackle the underlying causes of health inequalities caused by poverty to create a healthier and more equal Wales in the long-term...This report provides a framework for this response.”

Image credit: Shutterstock

Luminous cubes

CIEH Leadership Programme

Take your career to the next level with the CIEH Leadership Programme.

Find out more