We need to wake up to how austerity politics has made the elderly more frail than ever

The Tories mantra while in power has been austerity, austerity, austerity. Nobody likes it but recently Edinburgh University research revealed just how harmful to health it is.

So harmful it should come with a government health warning. The truth is that the oldest adults have become frailer faster during an era of austerity politics.

And researchers now say the rate of frailty in people 85 and over increased 50% faster between 2012 and 2018 than in the preceding eight years.

We should take account of this frailty – defined as a decline in a person’s mental and physical resilience to illness and injury – before any new austerity measures are introduced.

The study, led by researchers from Edinburgh University’s Advanced Care Research Centre, analysed data from 16,410 people in a resource called the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing – a representative sample of the English population, aged at least 50, between 2002 and 2018.

The Edinburgh team combined this with the “frailty index” (FI), which captures age-related declines in functional ability and physical and mental health on a scale of 0 to 1, with 1 being maximum frailty.

Those surveyed had an average age of 67 years and an average FI score of 0.15 – but researchers found FI scores worryingly increased more rapidly across all genders and socio-economic groups during the study period and it was particularly noticeable in the oldest people.

Frailty levels dropped during the 2000s but there was a steep rise in the 2010s when the Government introduced a wave of public spending cuts in response to the 2008 global financial crisis – with all ages losing improvements made in the past. And for the oldest, those improvements were lost entirely, making them more frail than those of the same age living in the 2000s, Edinburgh experts found.

The researchers point out that the rise in the Frailty Index corresponded with the plateauing of life expectancy in the 2010s, with higher mortality rates, particularly among the eldest people.

Dr Carys Pugh, research fellow at Edinburgh University, warned: “A key implication of this research should be a recognition that public spending reductions likely have negative impacts on health and, in turn, mortality, particularly among the oldest in society.

“Frailty normally increases with age, but as we emerged from the pandemic and into a cost-of-living crisis, any new austerity measures need careful consideration given their potential impact on long-term health – ­especially among the eldest who appear particularly vulnerable.”

I only wish politicians would listen to that – and act on it.