Intended for healthcare professionals


Austerity policies in Europe—bad for health

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: (Published 13 June 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f3716
  1. Helmut Brand, professor,
  2. Nicole Rosenkötter, research associate,
  3. Timo Clemens, research associate,
  4. Kai Michelsen, assistant professor
  1. 1Faculty of Health, Medicine, and Life Sciences, CAPHRI School for Public Health and Primary Care, Department of International Health, Maastricht University, 6229 GT Maastricht, Netherlands
  1. helmut.brand{at}

Health protection within the EU mandate is more relevant than ever

Austerity measures introduced in many European countries as a consequence of the 2008-09 economic crisis have had many adverse effects on social determinants of health. These include falling incomes, high rates of unemployment, reduced funding for education, and higher taxation. Many people (particularly young ones) are out of work—in Spain and Greece over half of under 25 year olds are unemployed.1 The combination of long term unemployment, inappropriate skills, and high entry barriers in rigid labour markets has created fears of a “generation jobless.”2 National austerity packages that have cut health budgets and resulting health policy reforms are additional drivers for adverse health outcomes, especially where health systems were less resilient or weak.

Health effects are accumulating in countries that were severely hit by the crisis, particularly Greece, Portugal, and Spain.3 In a linked Analysis (doi:10.1136/bmj.f2363), Legido-Quigley and colleagues explore in depth the consequences of Spanish austerity on health policy.4 They discuss lack of evidence that austerity policies work and the overall illogic of implementing serious health reforms in the current economic circumstances in Spain. Countries burdened by austerity policies have higher rates of poor health, particularly in the unemployed5; increased prevalence of mental health problems (such as depression, anxiety) and suicide attempts3 4; and increased incidence of infectious diseases, such as HIV.3 Although not enough data are …

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