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'Alarmist' concerns about an ageing society do not justify welfare cuts

A series of papers on Europe was launched by the Lancent Medical Journal this week. It also found a growing disparity between male life expectancy in eastern and western Europe.

Image: Ageing via Shutterstock

A STUDY ON Europe’s ageing population has found that concerns about the cost of health expenditure should not be used “as part of a political agenda to cut back on the welfare state”.

The authors of the paper, published by The Lancet medical journal as part of a European series, believe an ageing society does not present a fundamental threat to the European state.

Although researchers concede there will be twice as many people over the age of 65 than under the age of 15 by 2060, they say projected increases in health expenditure due to ageing have been “exaggerated”.

Other factors, including technological developments, have a much larger effect on aggregate health care costs, according to the paper which was supported by the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies.

The study found that European health systems will need to adapt to an ageing population, becoming more “age-friendly” in time. Improvements in coordination of care, addressing the ageing health workforce and enabling older people to care for themselves longer would go some way to achieving this.

The authors also point out that an ageing European population is likely to result in changing pension policies, and given established effects of the social determinants of health, radical new pension policies – such as differentiation of retirement age by socioeconomic group – might be “appropriate and even inevitable”.

A series of seven papers into the state of health in Europe was launched by the Lancet today.

Led by Professor Martin McKee of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, scientists and medics also found the disparity between male life expectancy in eastern and western Europe is now greater than it was forty years ago.

In the former Soviet Union, poor economic progress, combined with failure to stem rising levels of infectious disease – particularly HIV, AIDS and tuberculosis (TB) – as well as dangerous alcohol and tobacco use in these countries, has contributed to life expectancies in this region lagging far behind western Europe, with the gap at 12 years for men, and eight years for women.

Although more successful public health policies in western Europe have contributed to fewer deaths from cardiovascular disease and road traffic accidents, there is no room for complacency, according to the paper’s authors. Striking disparities in health still exist between different socioeconomic groups within countries, and the study points out noteworthy failures in public health policy such as delays in acting on tobacco in Germany, Denmark, and Austria.

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