Coronavirus death rates twice as high in more deprived areas, new figures show

Poor parts of London by far the worst hit – as death rates in the capital are found to be ‘statistically significantly higher’ than other parts of the country

Adam Forrest
Friday 01 May 2020 11:02 BST
Boris Johnson says austerity 'certainly not part' of government's economic response to coronavirus

The death rate from the coronavirus in deprived areas of England is more than double that found in richer locations – with the poorest parts of London by far the worst affected, according to new figures.

Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed that the mortality rate for the most deprived areas in March and early April was 55.1 deaths per 100,000 people, compared with 25.3 deaths per 100,000 in the least deprived areas.

The local authorities with the highest Covid-19 death rates were all London boroughs struggling with poverty, with Newham the single worst-affected area in the country, followed closely by Brent and Hackney.

Meanwhile British black Africans are dying from Covid-19 at more than three times the rate of the white population, an alarming study from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has found.

The think tank also found that Pakistani deaths are almost as disproportionate at 2.7 times higher, while fatalities among people of black Caribbean origin are 1.7 times greater.

Unlike previous analysis, the research reveals that age, gender and geography do not explain the disproportionate death tolls in most ethnic minority groups and points to the “striking differences in economic vulnerability" leaves certain communities facing disproportionate economic risks.

The figures prompted calls from opposition parties, charities and health experts for the government to tackle the huge disparity in how different communities are affected by the disease.

“This is a devastating confirmation that the virus thrives on inequality,” said the shadow health secretary, Jonathan Ashworth. “Covid-19 exacerbates existing inequalities in our country. Ministers must target health inequalities with an overarching strategy to tackle the wider social determinants of ill-health.”

The co-leader of the Liberal Democrats, Sir Ed Davey, also called on ministers to tackle the “fundamental inequalities” that have put the poorest at greater risk from Covid-19. “Those who were already vulnerable are being hit hardest. This is no coincidence. This postcode lottery of morbidity is shameful and must not be tolerated.”

Areas with a higher housing density were found by the ONS to have experienced a higher rate of death from the coronavirus outbreak than areas with a lower density of housing.

Charity leaders said the “worrying trend” reflects how deprived families are more likely to live in cramped housing, with many identified as essential workers who cannot work from home.

David Finch, senior fellow at the Health Foundation, said: “Those facing greater socio-economic disadvantage tend to live in cramped housing conditions and many are now classified as essential workers who don’t have the option of working from home, placing them at higher risk of exposure to Covid-19.

“People living in more deprived areas are also more likely to have one or more long-term health conditions, which means they are at greater risk of suffering severe symptoms from the virus if exposed.”

The London mortality rate of 85.7 deaths per 100,000 persons was found to be “statistically significantly higher” than any other region – almost double the next highest rate.

The crowded east London borough of Newham – which encompasses Stratford, West Ham, East Ham and Canning Town – has suffered the highest overall mortality rate in the country, experiencing 144.3 deaths per 100,000 people.

Rates were also high in the major cities of Liverpool, Birmingham and Manchester. A few other local authorities – including Salford, Watford, Middlesbrough, Luton and Slough – also had rates above 65 deaths per 100,000 people.

In contrast, the rural southwest of England saw just over 1 in 10 deaths involving the coronavirus, making it the region with the single lowest proportion of coronavirus deaths.

Helen Barnard, acting director at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said: “It’s crucial that all aspects of the spread of this virus are carefully examined, but we know that people in more deprived areas are less likely to have jobs where they can work from home.

“This means they may have to face a very significant drop in income or keep going to work, facing greater risks of catching the virus. They are also more likely to live in overcrowded homes, increasing the risk for whole families. This just is not right.”

David Buck, senior fellow at The King’s Fund, said the ONS data shows that the coronavirus pandemic “follows the pattern of nearly all other illnesses” in hitting the poorest hardest.

“Tackling these deep-rooted inequalities, and any further inequalities that may emerge due to coronavirus, will require cross-government action through a new national strategy. This is not impossible – evidence shows that the last Labour government made progress in tackling health inequalities by adopting just such an approach.”

As well as the southwest, five other areas had a significantly lower rate than the average: the east of England, Wales, the east Midlands, the southeast, and Yorkshire and the Humber.

The England-wide figures also showed the virus mortality rate is higher among men in the most deprived areas (76.7 deaths per 100,000) than it is for women (39.6).​

In Wales, where levels of deprivation are measured differently, the most deprived fifth of areas had a coronavirus mortality rate of 44.6 deaths per 100,000 between 1 March and 17 April.

This is almost twice as high as the rate for the least deprived areas (23.2 deaths per 100,000), the ONS said. The Covid-19 mortality rate for men in the most deprived fifth of areas in Wales was 61.9 deaths per 100,000 population, compared with 32.0 for women.

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