Experts analysed data on death rates of pensioners in England between 2007 and 2013, and found a “significant link” to austerity measures. A reduction of “just a few pounds” in pension credits could make a considerable difference, causing “significant stress”, which could precipitate heart attack or stroke.
Researchers said rising death rates among those aged 85 and over could be fuelled by poorer nutrition, inadequate heating, damp housing and isolation - all of which increase vulnerability.
The report has been dubbed as “completely misleading” by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) but one Yorkshire MP and former shadow secretary of state, Rachel Reeves, said it should be a wake up call to the Government.
Yorkshire, like much of the UK, faces a rapidly ageing population with North Yorkshire alone set to see the number of people aged over 85 forecast to rise from 17,400 in 2011 to 37,500 by 2030, an increase of 116 per cent.
The Oxford study found death rates among over 85s had been falling, but began to rise in 2011. By 2013, they were 4 per cent higher than 2010 among men, and six per cent higher among women. During this period, average spending on the pension credit fell from £2,482 per claimant in 2011 to £2,349 in 2013.
Ms Reeves, Labour MP for Leeds West, said: “Cuts to the pension credit, especially the savings element, have caused real distress for many older people and now this study from top academics show that for some it is leading to early death.
“With more cuts coming including to social care and disability benefits it is about time this government thought about the impact it is having on the most vulnerable people in society.”
The study warns that any future cuts may exasperate the problem.
Lead researcher Dr Rachel Loopstra said: “Both recent and proposed future changes to welfare spending fall heavily upon pensioners.
“The social care spending gap, exacerbated by population ageing and rising demand for services, has been projected to be £2.8 to £3.5bn by 2019/20.
“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.”
A DWP spokesman said: “It’s completely misleading to link these figures. The truth is that minimum income from Pension Credit has increased every year in line with earnings or more.”
Councils across Yorkshire, including Leeds, Bradford and North Yorkshire, have used new powers to raise council tax to pay for increasing social care bills.
Next week senior Doncaster councillors will debate a major overhaul of the way the authority deals with the care of older people. The council must make savings as it heads for a £4.7m overspend on its care budget for the next financial year.