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Research suggests local government funding cuts may have cost lives

Decreasing local government funding over recent years probably contributed to declines in life expectancy in some areas of England, which was stalling even prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, according to researchers at the University of Liverpool.

The new study, published in The Lancet Public Health, linked annual local government funding data from the Ministry of Housing, Communities, and Local Government with life expectancy and mortality data from Public Health England between 2013 and 2017.

On average, central funding to local governments decreased by 33% or £168 per person between 2013 and 2017.

The researchers found that each £100 reduction in central funding to local governments per person was associated with a decrease in 1.3 months in male life expectancy and 1.2 months in female life expectancy.

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Corresponding author Dr Alexandros Alexiou said: ‘Since 2010, large reductions in funding for local government services have been introduced in England, which led to 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.’

The study found that funding reductions were greater in more deprived areas, increasing the gap in life expectancy between the most deprived and affluent areas, with researchers estimating that cuts in funding increased the gap in life expectancy between the most and least affluent areas by 3% for men and 4% for women.

Overall reductions in funding during this period were associated with an additional 9600 deaths in people younger than 75 years old.

Dr Alexiou added: ‘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’.’

In related news, local economic interventions have consistently failed to address inequalities across the UK’s most deprived communities, according to a new report from The Institute for Community Studies.

Photo by Nick Fewings

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