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Cost-of-living crisis could increase premature deaths in Scotland, says PHS

The report was released by Public Health Scotland on Tuesday (Jane Barlow/PA)
The report was released by Public Health Scotland on Tuesday (Jane Barlow/PA)

The impact of the cost-of-living crisis on household finances could lead to more premature deaths, a report from Public Health Scotland (PHS) has said.

The body released a study into the impact of the economic turmoil hitting the UK on Tuesday and its impacts on the health of Scots.

The report estimated that increased inflation and costs could result in more deaths of people under the age of 75, with the poorest suffering worst.

PHS said that, while the report should not be seen as predicting the increase in the number of deaths this year, it would act “as an indication of the potential magnitude of effects if income changes are sustained”.

The report modelled the impacts on premature mortality of four different scenarios: the baseline if inflation and wages matched the average of the last decade; if Government had not stepped in to curb inflation; if only the energy price guarantee was in place; and the current situation which saw the implementation of the guarantee and other cost of living support for the most vulnerable.

The energy price guarantee capped the bills of the average household at £2,500, following a UK Government decision, while a number of other support packages for those hit hardest by the increased cost of living was also put on offer.

But despite the mitigation moves by governments, premature deaths could still increase, the report said.

The body estimated that premature deaths per 100,000 for the population would rise to 895 from the baseline estimate of 827 for those living in the 20% of most deprived areas, compared to an increase of just six per 100,000 (from 243 to 249) in the most affluent.

Maree Todd
Maree Todd called on the UK Government to do more (Fraser Bremner/Scottish Daily Mail/PA)

Across the population, premature deaths were estimated to increase by 30 per 100,000 (463 to 493).

Life expectancy was also predicted to take a hit, the report said, dropping by a full year compared to the baseline scenario from 72.6 to 71.6 for the poorest 20% and by 0.2 years in the least deprived category.

The study also made a number of recommendations to support those hit the hardest by the cost of living crisis.

“The potential impacts of inflation and reduced real incomes are likely to be large and negative, with marked inequalities in how these are experienced,” the report said.

“Public policy responses to economic challenges in the last decade have been accompanied by a deterioration in health and a widening of health inequalities in the UK and Scotland.

“It will be important to protect incomes of low-income people and support public services if health is to improve and health inequalities are to narrow.”

The report went on to say that the protection and increase of incomes for the poorest in society should be a priority, including Government “provision of, and signposting to, proactive income maximisation services”.

The report added: “Other potential actions could include reducing costs to access services, less aggressive pursuit of debts to public agencies, protecting employment, addressing economic inactivity, supporting fair work practices, reducing hidden costs of work and providing flexible work to reduce costs of childcare.”

Scotland’s public health minister Maree Todd said the cost of living crisis was brought on by “the economic mismanagement of the UK Government”, adding that the Scottish Government will have spent £3 billion in this financial year on the cost of living.

“The Scottish Government will continue to do everything within its powers and finite budget to ensure people are supported as far as possible,” she added.

“However, most of the key policy levers are held by the UK Government, which needs to take urgent action to reinstate the Universal Credit uplift at £25 per week, extended to all means-tested benefits.

“It is vital that further funding is provided to address the backlog in care caused by Covid and to help our NHS and social care staff deal with the cost-of-living crisis that in some cases is making people choose between heating and eating.”