Government cuts to pension credits could be a factor in a sharp increase in the mortality rate of the over 85s, according to a new study.
In 2011 official figures showed that the long-term decline in death rates among the over 85s had begun to reverse.
Various reasons have been given for the change ranging from the weather to an increase in flu cases, but new research claims to have found a link between the cuts to pension credits and the increase in death rates in this age group.
The Chancellor George Osborne brought in a reduction to pension credits – benefit payments made to elderly people on low incomes – between 2011 and 2013.
Researchers at four universities led by Dr Rachel Loopstra from the University of Oxford say that the impact of that cut in income could have contributed to an increase in deaths.
For example, the cuts could have caused anxiety, increasing the chance of a heart attack or stroke. Alternatively, the reduction in income could have affected the elderly’s ability to pay for food or heating, leaving them more vulnerable to illness.
The paper, published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, states that the drop in the pension credit in 2012 corresponded with a 1.4% increase in death rates among people aged over 85.
“Both recent and proposed future changes to welfare spending fall heavily upon pensioners,” says Dr Loopstra. “Healthcare professionals have a crucial role in drawing attention to the consequences of these cuts and advocating publicly for policies that protect some of the most vulnerable individuals in society.”
The reduction in pension credit was relatively small, falling from £2,482 in 2011 to £2,349 in 2013 but the researchers point out that for the poorest members of society a change of “even a few pounds could make a considerable difference to disposable income”.
What the Government says
The Department for Work and Pensions has strongly refuted the paper's findings. “It’s completely misleading to link these figures,” a spokesperson said.
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