UK Government’s COVID-19 policy shift estimated to prevent around 177,000 incremental deaths, valued at £355 billion

As with any decision, this should bring benefits that exceed costs.
- Professor Paul Dolan
covid-19 London 747 560
COVID-19, London. CC BY 2.0 Nickolay Romensky, CC BY 2.0

The UK government’s policy to suppress the COVID-19 epidemic was expected to prevent around 177,000 incremental deaths, with a monetary value of £355 billion — around 16% of GDP — according to new research from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).*

This indicative figure, which is the equivalent to around £5,600 per capita, represents an estimate of the benefits of the UK government’s policy change at the time it moved from ‘mitigation’ to ‘suppression’ of COVID-19 on 16 March 2020.

The estimate was derived using a calculation of the expected number of incremental deaths prevented by the Covid-19 policy shift to be around 159,000. Based on data available at the time of the decision, the authors calculated that around 44,000 of the 159,000 deaths prevented were from avoiding “overflow” deaths in the NHS.

The authors write that ‘the UK Government has placed great weight on preventing “overflow” deaths by avoiding overwhelming the intensive care units at hospitals.’ Assuming that all lives are valued equally by using the UK Treasury value of a prevented fatality of £2 million (based on the death of an “average” aged person e.g. from a road traffic accident), the authors calculate the monetary value of the deaths prevented from Covid-19 to be around £355 billion.

The suppression policy also unintentionally reduces mortality risks from other causes such as air pollution. These were not salient at the time of the decision and are very difficult to calculate, but they represent important benefits, and are assumed to be around another 30,000 prevented deaths. Adding in deaths averted from other causes, they estimate the total value of the fatalities prevented to be about £355 billion, equivalent to 16% of the UK’s GDP, around £5,600 per capita.

The authors caution that the results are sensitive to their assumptions about the number of deaths the policy shift prevented, the UK Treasury’s ‘value of a prevented fatality’, and the remaining life expectancies of those whose deaths the suppression policy averts. They write: 'Deaths from Covid-19 are highly concentrated in older people with lower life expectancies'.

The authors note that their calculations could be set against the costs of the suppression policy, and although they do not calculate these costs, they will include ‘lives lost and blighted by the inability to access services, loneliness, lack of physical exercise, domestic violence, child development and nutrition, child abuse, unemployment, divorce, and suicide'.

Paul Dolan, Professor of Behavioural Science at LSE and co-author of the study, said: “In tackling Covid-19, the UK made a very significant decision to move from a mitigation strategy to one of suppression. As with any decision, this should bring benefits that exceed costs.

"We have sought to provide an indicative value of the benefits from the policy shift by calculating the monetary value of the deaths prevented using data available when the decision was made and government guidance on how to value prevented fatalities. We calculate the benefits to be worth around £5,600 per capita. This can then be compared to the expected costs of the policy shift.”

Behind the article

Estimating the monetary value of the deaths prevented from the UK Covid-19 lockdown when it was decided upon –and the value of “flattening the curve” by Professor Paul Dolan and Pinar Jenkins, LSE was published on 20 April 2020.

These figures were revised from 189,000 incremental deaths, £378 billion monetrary value, £5,600 per capita and 17% of GDP on 29/06/2020, based on further investigation by the authors of the report.