Austerity is linked to an increase in deaths of pensioners aged 85 and over, research has found.
Spending cuts in England have hit vulnerable adults and are linked to cuts in spending and income support for poorer elderly people, the research, published on Wednesday by the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, revealed.
Sociology and public health researchers analysed mortality statistics for 324 council areas in England covering from 2007 to 2013 to examine whether cuts to pension credits and social care were associated with recent rises in death rates.
They found "a significant association" between cuts to pension credit spending and the number of recipients over 85 dying.
Lead researcher Dr Reep Loopstra, of Oxford University said the cuts to pension credits, income support for low-income OAPs, explained most of a 4.6% increase in deaths among the over-85s in 2012, the year the cuts were made.
The researchers' model estimates the average drop in pension credit spending per person in 2012 of 3% corresponds to a 1.4% rise in mortality. The decline in pension credit beneficiaries observed in 2012 translates to a rise of 2.7% in mortality
“Together, these changes are of a sufficient magnitude to explain almost 90% of the observed 4.6% rise in mortality of that year," she added.
"Poorer older age adults are one of the most vulnerable groups in the population and a reduction of just a few pounds could make a considerable difference to disposable income.
"Declines of this magnitude can cause significant stress and anxiety to people of older ages, which could precipitate heart attack or stroke.”
Poorer nutrition, inadequate heating or damp homes can also make death more likely, she said.
The government's promise to protect the state pension, such as the 'Triple Lock' commitment to raise it in line with inflation every year, does not apply to pension credits.
Total spending on the credits fell by 6.5% in England in 2012.
“Both recent and proposed future changes to welfare spending fall heavily upon pensioners”, said 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.”
Mike Adamson, chief executive of the British Red Cross, said the increased vulnerability was about more than pension credits.
He said: "Our country is experiencing a critical social care crisis, the repercussions of which are felt most acutely across older people and those with disabilities.
"From 2009 to 2013, the number of people receiving publicly funded social care fell by 26%, more than a quarter. That’s almost half a million older and disabled people who would have received social care in 2009 but not in 2013. We know that budgets are tight, but failing to adequately fund prevention and a social care is a false economy."
He added that the government should use Wednesday's budget to "take into account how to best enable local authorities to implement the Care Act's new prevention and information duties in a meaningful way".
"This landmark legislation was put in place to protect those in need of care and prevent people from reaching the point of crisis," he said.
"The new duties must be understood and implemented properly if this country is to move towards a truly preventative system and away from its social care crisis.”