The COVID-19 death rate in the most deprived areas of England and Wales is double that of more affluent places, new data published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has revealed.
The research shows that in the most deprived areas of England, the death rate was 55.1 deaths per 100,000 population compared with 25.3 deaths per 100,000 population in the least deprived areas.
The death rate progressively rises from the least deprived area to the most deprived places, according to the ONS figures.
Data for Wales revealed a similar trend: the most deprived areas had a mortality rate of 44.6 deaths per 100,000 population, almost twice as high as better off places where the rate was 23.2 deaths per 100,000 population.
Nick Stripe, head of health analysis at the ONS, said the gap in the death rate between poorer and richer parts of the country due to COVID-19 was even wider than is normally seen.
“People living in more deprived areas have experienced COVID-19 mortality rates more than double those living in less deprived areas,” he said, adding “general mortality rates are normally higher in more deprived areas, but so far COVID-19 appears to be taking them higher still”.
Deprivation levels were based on the index of multiple deprivation, which measures deprivation based on a range of factors such as income, employment, health, education, crime, the living environment and access to housing.
According to 2019 data, the most recent available index, Middlesbrough, Liverpool, Knowsley, Hull and Manchester have the highest proportions of neighbourhoods among the most deprived in England.
The index also shows that seven of the 10 local authority districts with the highest levels of income deprivation among older people are in London.
Between March and April 17 2020, there were 90,232 deaths in England and Wales, with 20,283 of these deaths involving the coronavirus. The vast majority of these deaths are of older people.
The data uses a metric called age-standardised mortality rates to allow comparisons between populations that may contain different proportions of people of different ages.
London has the highest age-standardised mortality rate with 85.7 deaths per 100,000 persons involving COVID-19, almost double the next highest rate, according to the ONS.
And local authorities with the highest age-standardised mortality rates are all London boroughs: Newham had the highest age-standardised rate with 144.3 deaths per 100,000 population followed by Brent with a rate of 141.5 deaths per 100,000 population and Hackney with a rate of 127.4 deaths per 100,000 population.
Diana Johnson, the Labour MP for Kingston Upon Hull North, said that while she was very aware of the impact that deprivation had on life expectancy, the difference in COVID mortality rates was “shocking.”
“This is something that I’m sure scientists and doctors and researchers are going to be looking at for a long time, but clearly, there is something in it,” she told BuzzFeed News.
“These figures are pretty stark, in that if you’re poor if you live in a deprived neighborhood, you are more like you twice as likely I think from those figures to die, which is, is very stark,” she added.
While she said more research was needed to find out exactly what was behind the differences in mortality rates, she said it was clear that “there’s something that you’re most susceptible to, the poorer and more deprived a community you come from to, to succumb to COVID-19”.
Johnson suggested that one factor likely to be driving the discrepancy in mortality rates may be existing health inequalities in poor communities.
“The doctors keep telling us that if you have a pre-existing condition, then that’s more of a problem for you fighting off COVID,” she said, “and I know in my constituency, people with chronic conditions tend to get them earlier.”
Johnson said that relatively high levels of smoking leading to respiratory issues, more people developing coronary problems at a younger age, and higher rates of obesity were all factors in the deprived communities that she represents.
“These are factors that we know generally can affect your ability to shake off diseases,” she said. “And they’re obviously having quite a dramatic effect on COVID.”
Johnson suggested that the government should also consider the impact of deprivation alongside its inquiry into why coronavirus is disproportionately affecting black and ethnic minority communities in the UK. “Perhaps now [they need] to be widening that out and looking at deprivation as well,” she said.
“I think for communities that are deprived, and also BAME communities, and often there’s quite a lot of overlap there, I think the government really need to look at that,” she added.
Chris Thomas, a researcher at the think tank IPPR, said that disproportionately severe cuts to public health services in areas that rank highest for deprivation may have impacted their resilience to the virus.
Public interventions that have been sharply reduced in those areas — including anti-smoking campaigns, measures to reduce obesity and sexual health clinics — were designed to prevent the type of underlying health conditions that experts now say put people at most risk of becoming seriously ill with COVID-19.
“Services designed to keep people in good health were cut by far the hardest in the most deprived local authority areas,” Thomas said.
Alison Garnham, the chief executive of charity Child Poverty Action Group told BuzzFeed News: “The link between poverty and poorer health is well-established, so it comes as no surprise that deprived communities have worse outcomes when the country is battling the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This finding makes it even more important that government measures to support people financially should focus particularly on those who were already struggling to make ends meet before the pandemic struck.”
She called on on ministers to provide more support to families with children by increasing child benefit by £10 per child per week.
The ONS also found that the death rate was much higher in urban than rural areas with the highest death rate in “major towns and cities” where the death rate is 64.3 per 100,000 population.