Few would contest that the UK government’s austerity policy has increased job losses, and indeed, one of its core aims has been to achieve large scale reductions in public sector employment. But what are the implications for health?
This is an important question. A recent report commissioned by the government called for measures that would make dismissing employees easier than it is now, conceding that “some people will be dismissed simply because their employer doesn’t like them,” but arguing that this is a “price worth paying.”1 Although the wording of the report was unusually blunt, it reflected a widely held view among many of the government’s supporters that the answer to the current financial problems was to deregulate labour markets further, with so-called “supply-side” policies that weaken employment protection and obligations in areas such as health and safety. 2 But if these policies are to be pursued, what is the price that must be paid by those who will lose their jobs? Such knowledge is essential before deciding whether this price is worth paying.
A growing number of people may be paying the ultimate price. In 2008, suicides began to rise in England, from a 20 year low,34 increasing by 7% among men and 8% among women from the previous year (fig⇓). Although suicides began to fall again in 2010, they are currently still above corresponding values in 2007.