The startling and depressing findings that almost 11,000 people were hospitalised with malnutrition last year in England alone were reported by The Times Health Commission following a freedom of information request. According to the report, thousands of people have been admitted to hospitals with conditions such as malnutrition, scurvy, and rickets. These are diseases that are usually associated with poverty, famine, or war, not with a rich, developed nation like the UK. The report pulls no punches as to where the blame lies. It identifies the rising cost of living, cuts to welfare and public services, and the lack of access to healthy food for many low-income families. It warns that these factors are creating a “hidden hunger” crisis that is affecting not only physical health but also mental health, education, and productivity. It calls for urgent action from the government, the food industry, and the public to tackle this problem and prevent further harm.
Dr. Clare Gerada, president of the Royal College of GPs, said, “The poorest people in the country are poorer than any other counterparts in Europe….and it’s poor diet…..This isn’t about the health system, it’s about the social determinants of ill health, indicative of the last 15 years of austerity”.
As Ian Byrne, MP, wryly tweeted, “Yes folks it’s 2023 not 1823.”
There is so much that should make us angry. While inequality is inherent within capitalism, these extreme and widespread cases of poverty are a direct result of George Osborne’s 2010 experiment with the severe and rigid economic policy of austerity. A study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health in October 2022 found there were 334,327 excess deaths beyond the expected number in England, Wales, and Scotland over an eight-year period. He was warned at the time of the risks of cutting billions from public spending and, as predicted, it has pushed a generation of vulnerable people into extreme poverty and premature death.
However, even worse is the fact that it was known as early as 2013 that the research on which Osborne based this policy was flawed. The Guardian reported at the time that a spreadsheet created by researchers Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff had an error that distorted the findings. This was used to draw the conclusion that public debt of more than 90% of GDP slowed down growth. The correction was substantial. The paper said that countries with 90% debt ratios saw their economies shrink by 0.1%. Instead, it should have found that they grew by 2.2% – less than those with lower debt ratios, but not a spiralling collapse. Yet cutting public spending to avoid that contraction became a lynchpin of both George Osborne’s and the IMF’s policies.
The discovery for Reinhart and Rogoff, who worked at the IMF, was hugely embarrassing. “It is sobering that such an error slipped into one of our papers,” they said in a statement in 2013. What is even more sobering is that Osborne did not allow this so called ‘small error’ to push him off course. Thirteen years later we are seeing the consequences, with adult and child poverty at record levels and the return of illnesses that were more common in Victorian Britain.
At the same time, there was outrage from some quarters that a demonstrator, applauded by Just Stop Oil (JSO), though not one of their recognised supporters, had the temerity to throw orange confetti at Osborne’s wedding last week. Yvette Cooper and Ed Balls were guests at this wedding. Patrick Christys, a presenter on GB News tweeted, “If somebody did this at my wedding, they’d be getting buried in the graveyard behind the church very shortly afterwards”.
So catastrophic mismanagement of our economy, based on flawed data, that has resulted in untold misery for millions hardly raises an eyebrow. Yet the sight of a rich and privileged man, who is responsible for all these problems having to cope with the indignity of orange confetti at his wedding, caused an outcry. This says all we need to know about our class ridden country.