Neoliberal epidemics: the spread of austerity, obesity, stress and inequality

Aside Posted on

August 20, 2015 3.39pm BST

Times are tough – for some more than others. Homeless by Shutterstock

Within the small local authority of Stockton-on-Tees, where one of us lives and works, the difference in male life expectancy between the most and least deprived areas is 17 years. This is comparable to the difference in average male life expectancy between the UK and Senegal. It does not mean that moving from a richer and leafier ward into Stockton town centre will shorten your life expectancy but it does reflect the consequences of what sociologist and urbanist Saskia Sassen calls “a savage sorting of winners and losers”.

The sorting has not just happened. It is the end point of a decisive shift away from the postwar welfare state, and what Thomas Humphrey Marshall called social citizenship. The retreat from social citizenship in the UK began in the Thatcher era, if not earlier, but the financial crisis that swept across the world in 2008 provided a pretext for a new round of (selective) austerity. As tax revenues shrank, the need to control borrowing and the resulting fiscal deficits was invoked to justify drastic but selective public expenditure cuts, such as the bedroom tax (a benefit reduction for social housing tenants), increased benefit sanctions and reductions in local authority budgets that will hit the poor and the poorest regions hardest. Even before May’s general election, it was widely agreed that the harshest cuts have yet to occur.

In concrete terms this means that, as one report called it, the relentless rise of food poverty in Britain will continue, as austerity measures lead to increased reliance on food banks. And more cases will occur like that of diabetic former soldier David Clapson, who died with just £3.44 left in his bank account and an empty fridge after he was sanctioned for missing an appointment with a Job Centre adviser.

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