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Coronavirus England: People in poor areas twice as likely to die

The most deprived areas of England have coronavirus death rates twice as high as the richest areas, stark official data confirms.

People living in the poorest areas of the country, which are typically inner city boroughs in London, Birmingham and the north of England, have suffered an average of almost 140 Covid-19 deaths for every 100,000 people.

Meanwhile the wealthiest areas have had less than half as many fatalities, with an average rate of 63.4 deaths per 100,000.

An Office for National Statistics report today added further weight to what data have shown for months, that the virus preys on the most disadvantaged people.

Reasons for this are not totally clear but scientists suggest poorer general health, living in overcrowded households and relying on public transport – which puts them at greater risk of getting infected – are what increase people’s death risk. 

The most deprived areas in the country are also home to high proportions of people from black, Asian and ethnic minority (BAME) backgrounds – who have been disproportionately affected by the disease. 

Middlesbrough has suffered the highest Covid-19 death rate per capita outside of London, recording 178 victims per 100,000 people, according to the NHS. 

The North Yorkshire town was also ranked as the most deprived area in the country in a report published last year by the Ministry of Housing.

Meanwhile, the east London borough of Newham was named the second worst-hit local authority by the ONS today, with a fatality rate of 201.6 per 100,000 residents. Newham consistently ranks among the top 30 most-deprived areas in England.  

The ONS report categorised areas using the English Index of Multiple Deprivation, which assesses how well off people living in a particular area are.

It takes into account how much money people earn, their employment status, their health, education, housing and how much crime is in their area.

It doesn’t rank individual areas into the categories, listed one to six, but calculates the death rates for each category.

Areas falling into Category 1, the most deprived, have had 139.6 coronavirus deaths per 100,000 people since the epidemic began in March 1 and June 30.

And areas in Category 10 – the richest households – have had a death rate of 63.4 per 100,000. 

In the middle classes the death rates varied from between 25 and 50 deaths per 100,000 people.

Experts have suggested in the past that people in more deprived areas may be surrounded by more deaths partly because they are more likely to catch the virus.

They’re more likely to work in people-facing jobs, such as retail or customer service, and more likely to rely on public transport, meaning they come into contact with more strangers. 

Reacting to the data, Richard Harris, professor of quantitative social geography at the University of Bristol, said: ‘The findings in June differ from the earlier ones in that London was hit first by Covid-19 and originally had the highest regional death rate. Since then, the disease has spread out and regions like the North West have taken the lead.

‘Notable trends are that deprived and ethnically diverse areas remain at higher risks, as do places with greater overcrowding and care homes.

‘The data do not in themselves say why deprivation raises risk but it isn’t difficult to imagine why – partly greater pre-existing health issues but also the links between deprivation, ethnicity and occupation types (jobs with greater risks of exposure) and household overcrowding.

‘London has a young population on average but a part of that is driven by its ethnic diversity with many of those ethnic groups facing greater risk. 

‘That, and the fact that it is a world city with a large population, densely populated, that had greater exposure to the virus early on, will drive up the age standardised mortality rates.’ 

The data showed a similar picture in Wales, where the rate in the poorest areas was 119.1 deaths per 100,000, nearly twice that of the wealthiest (63.5).

A separate report has added further weight to a trend throughout the outbreak showing that death rates in poorer areas are significantly higher than in wealthy postcodes. In the poorest, there have been an average 139 fatalities per 100,000 people, up from 63 per 100,000 in the richest areas.

The most deprived areas in England had a mortality rate of of 139 Covid deaths per 100,000 people, more than twice as high as in the least deprived areas (63.4). There was a similar picture in Wales, where the rate in the poorest areas was 119.1 deaths per 100,000, nearly twice that of the wealthiest (63.5). 

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