The Great Recession of 2007-2008 saw the largest period of economic downturn since the Second World War or the Great Depression of the 1930s. Recessions, however, tend not to have a significant impact on population health. Rather it is how society and governments respond to a recession that has a larger impact on their populations. The dominant political response to the Great Recession was the introduction of austerity programmes aimed at reducing the size of the state. In this Commentary, I briefly review the state of evidence on the changes in population health during austerity. Although the negative impact of austerity on overall population health has been well documented across Europe, there remains a paucity of evidence on within-country differences in health. The slowing down of improvements in life expectancy, correlated to the level of austerity, raises uncomfortable questions as to whether we are beginning to transition from the era of consistently improving population health to a new age characterised by an instability in population health largely dictated by the social and political determinants of health.