Price UK government prepared to pay to save lives lower than other countries, study finds

Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a media briefing in Downing Street on coronavirus. Photograph: P

Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a media briefing in Downing Street on coronavirus. Photograph: PA. - Credit: PA

The price the UK government was prepared to pay to save lives during the coronavirus pandemic was lower than many other developed nations, a study has revealed.

Analysis by academics at the University of Exeter suggest the government in Westminster was willing to pay far less than other developed countries including Germany, New Zealand and South Korea to protect more citizens' lives.

The researchers added that 20,000 lives in the UK would have been saved if the government had imposed lockdown three days earlier.


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The study found that whilst the 'price of life' in the UK was among the lowest at around 100,000 US dollars, in South Korea and New Zealand, where their respective government's acted quicker to impose lockdown restrictions and whose response to date has been deemed most successful, the price of life was much higher at 6.7 million US dollars and 11.6 million US dollars respectively.

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The researchers completed a cross-country comparison across nine nations, Belgium, the US, Germany, Korea, Italy, Denmark, China, New Zealand and the UK, and used epidemiological modelling to calculate how many lives were lost through delaying lockdown.

They then assessed this alongside the financial cost lockdown had on GDP in each country by comparing pre-lockdown IMF forecasts to the most recent figures and teasing apart the amount of GDP loss that came from the effects of lockdown policies.

This then gave them a 'price of life' estimate, the amount of money individual governments were willing to pay to protect their citizens' lives, reflected in the economic activity sacrificed.

The study, published in the Environmental and Resource Economics journal, also found that, if lockdown measures in the UK were delayed by a further 12 days, it would have cost more than 200,000 additional lives.

University of Exeter business school academic and lead author of the report, Ben Balmford, said: 'Seemingly, much like a bird in the hand, cash flowing through the market is worth much more than value passing through wellbeing, at least to some countries.

'By choosing not to impose lockdowns three days earlier, governments rejected saving more lives when the price was relatively high.

'The same logic reveals them to have accepted the implied price of life from a delay – they would rather bear the cost in terms of GDP than as further human lives lost.'

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