Why Are Britons Getting Sick With Victorian Diseases?

Over the past five years, Britain has been faced with an escalating series of spending cuts in a form of forced austerity designed to keep the nation solvent and functional. The cuts have triggered social unrest and outrage across Britain, but some of their effects are being felt more insidiously. It’s not just the marchers in the street who are suffering, but also the general population, with a growing number of diseases of poverty cropping up among the country’s most vulnerable. Many of these illnesses havenot seen in great numbers since the Victorian era, which presents significant concerns for public health. The implications could be especially severe for the next generation of Britons researchers need look only to longitudinal studies of what’s happened to people who grew up during times of post-war austerity or the Depression to see what happens when people experience malnutrition and related health problems in youth.

7,366 people were admitted to NHS hospitals with symptoms of malnutrition between April 2014 and August 2015, a radical jump that covered everyone from small children to older adults. Malnutrition is associated with a number of problems including physical and developmental delays, poor teeth and reduced immune resistance. Consequently, other diseases like scarlet fever, whooping cough, tuberculosis, rickets and scurvy are creeping back into the population. People cannot afford the varied and fresh food they need to stay healthy, and even with the NHS, they’re having trouble accessing the support and care they need. The issue has become pressing enough for children that organizations are stepping in with summer nutrition programs to ensure that children have access to food when school is out for the summer.

While whooping cough isn’t at epidemic levels yet, it’s still a significant risk, and just over half of pregnant women have immunizations, presenting a risk to their newborns. Low vaccination rates decrease herd immunity, making it more likely that children will develop the sometimes fatal infection. Scarlet fever rates, meanwhile, are skyrocketing, and while the bacterial infection can be treated with antibiotics, complications can arise if it’s not treated quickly. It’s easier to manage in the modern era with a range of drugs to treat feverishness, but it can be fatal, and it’s extremely uncomfortable for patients, who develop blotchy rashes, high temperatures and restlessness. Scarlet fever is also extremely infectious, so once one child has it, it can spread quickly through a community without adequate quarantine levels.

Some Britons are developing scurvy because they’re aren’t getting an adequate amount of fresh fruit. Disease surveillance data suggests that the nation hasn’t seen rates this high since post-war austerity, when it was similarly difficult to access produce due to cuts and the need to restart the agricultural industry after many farms had been left idle while so much of Britain was at war. Even with farmers receiving service exemptions and women going to work in the fields, it was difficult to keep up the nation’s farming resources during the war, and it cost the country dearly later. In some parts of London, rates of tuberculosis are actually higher than those observed in developing nations, underscoring the fact that the nation is struggling with a public health crisis.

The list of illnesses thought long-dead goes on. Austerity is making it harder for Britons to survive, driving food prices up, cutting public health, and creating a firestorm of problems that’s almost perfectly planned to induce diseases of poverty. Without addressing the problem, it’s only going to get worse, thrusting Britain back into the early 20th century, when such diseases were extremely widespread and also very dangerous.

Photo credit; John Lucas

81 comments

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus1 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Mary B.
Mary B1 years ago

We already know that austarity programs are counter productive to civilation so why are the worlds governments still doing it, and why are the same stupid people still spewing the same foolish crap that has nothing to do with real people . Listen to yourselves! Poor food choices are not possible when all that some places have available is poor food. Or not even enough food. Choice is not an option yet some of you are still victim blaming.

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Nikki Davey
Nikki Davey1 years ago

I must correct something here. Whooping cough is not given as a vaccination to pregnant women. It is given free of charge to babies at 2,3,and 4 months, combined with polio diphtheria and tetanus.
Tuberculosis was nearly eradicated by compulsory BCG inoculation, but as the reported rate of disease plummeted it was decided not to give it routinely but only to those judged "at risk". However this did not include new immigrants from infected parts of the world.
But malnutrition is definitely a step back to Victorian Times. Not good.

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Erin H.
Erin H1 years ago

That we don't share your religion or politics, Kamia, is a great benefit to the rest of us. How awfully sad if you honestly believe in and vote to support a punishing god with a posse of plutocrats, rather than a good one who provides more than enough for all his creatures! Try envisioning yourself as a child of god, same as we all are, and gathered at our parent's table. Nobody was brought here to be deprived, ignored or specially favored. Let God be GOOD and see what follows from it, Kamia. You're a princess! Ensuring that God’s gifts get through to ALL of us is doing God's will on earth as it is in heaven. Those who grab more than they could ever need, just because they can, are literally stealing other people's happiness.

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Kamia T.
Kamia T1 years ago

I hate to be blunt, but re-read the first paragraph. Countries, just like people, simply CAN'T keep spending more than they have because one group or another says they are 'entitled' to whatever. I live a rather poor lifestyle, but that doesn't mean I'm entitled to demand anyone fund a better one, sorry.

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Shari R.
Misss D1 years ago

Several people have touched on this but I wanted to make it clear that many people who use food banks in Britain are not necessarily on benefits or scrounging. Many people in part time, or even full time, work find themselves having to access a food bank. Due to loans, credit cards and not being properly financially educated, having caring responsibilities or due to problems beyond their control, even people earning decent money on a full time job are referred to food banks, for example by their GP, when they present as suffering with long term malnutrition because they can't afford enough for food. A lot of this can be traced back to drastic cuts in benefits and people finding it hard to cope with the changes.

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Neville B.
Neville B1 years ago

By her own proportional generalising wouldn't that make Tory MPs cheating, stealing, lying, betraying, self-serving, adulterous, homosexual, drug-abusing, paedophiles? Until a month ago that list could've included murderers. Of course. though, it's not true: not all Tory MPs are like that.

Sadly the poor who do sacrifice support, food, warmth and shelter for drugs are the ones who are more likely to die off. If their numbers don't seem to be going down, it's probably because new victims of the system are being churned out by the DWP, Education, Justice, and assorted bodies, to replace them.

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Neville B.
Neville B1 years ago

Dear Ruhee B.,

You make a fair point about nutrition (and exercise), and education of it, but surely that's across the income board, and generally leads to it's own disorders: obesity, diabetes, and the malnutrition of arrested physical development, etc? While it's true that most people should be able to afford enough vitamin C to prevent scurvy, I think we're looking at people in poverty (who may not have access to a cooker), such as the homeless, the disabled and ill who've been denied benefit, those in massive debt, addicts (and that isn't always drugs), OAPs, the abused and enslaved, and so on. I don't know any of these who are likely to have muffins or doughnuts for breakfast.

As for cigarettes and alcohol, in such conditions I don't know that I'd be strong enough not to look for virtual escape from despondency and despair either, so can't blame those people who retreat into denial, and become addicted (possibly in a long, stressful grind due to something else, that forced them to flee a violent partner, lose their job, or interest in life), which is another battle they have to fight.

Please note that this is a proportion of the total, which I'm sure you know but didn't make clear in your post: the former Tory MP Edwina Currie said something similar about food-bank users, who aren't likely to be target voters, claiming they spent their money on dog-food and tattoos. By her own proportional generalising wouldn't that make Tory MPs cheating, stealing, lying, betra

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Jennifer H.
Jennifer H1 years ago

I am not aware of free vaccinations for the GP here in the US. My friends with children always have to go to their doctors and pay for their immunizations. And funny that TB keeps being mentioned. We are also having a comeback of that disease here. I think these problems are not just a British problem.

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Ron A G.
Ron G1 years ago

Ruhee B., I hear what you are saying and it is true in part. The point of most others here is that nutrition is hard to obtain and give. People are going to food banks for the food they give those kids for lunch in ever expanding situations. People you may not even think are going to ffod banks are in a must situation like that, including elderly. The food is what it is...filler and what is offered is what you get. You complain but it is what they only can give based on all the funding cuts and lack of jobs in each country. We literally work to keep the elite wealthy. They say they give back-trickle down- but not in fairness to what we give. Their point is that there are more of us then them. It's true, but we pay the standard rate on all our income, they don't. What will be true is that we will be taking that away from them when we smarten up. They will still be able to afford the lavish lifestyle, but they must dig in their wallets not ours and then you will hear whining like never before. We already do. Nutrition comes when we have a choice and more and more people don't have that choice. That also includes healthcare until the ACA, and they want to take that away in the USA. My point, you might need to open eyes to the fact that people do what they must.

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