Despite coronavirus being commonly referenced as “the great equalizer”, new data has today confirmed it has disproportionately affected poorer neighbourhoods.
The most deprived areas of England registered 55.1 deaths linked to Covid-19 per 100,000 people up to April 17, the figures show. The least deprived had a rate less than half of that, at 25.3 deaths per 100,000.
These numbers – released tpday, by the Office for National Statistics – give the most detailed picture yet of the places that have been hit hardest by the virus.
They look at the number of deaths in each “middle super output area” – neighbourhoods of around 8,000-9,000 people spread across the country.
These deaths can then be compared with separate figures showing how deprived, or not, those neighbourhoods are.
Those deprivation scores, updated by statisticians every three years, are calculated using a broad range of indicators – not just income and employment rates, but also things like local education levels, crime rates, access to housing and the state of the living environment.
The pattern is clear when we split the neighbourhoods into 10 equal sized groups, where “1” is the most deprived and “10” the least deprived.
Another way of showing the trend is by plotting every neighbourhood on a graph. Here the horizontal axis shows how deprived an area is: the further it is to the right, the more deprived it is. The vertical axis is the percentage of deaths between March 1 and April 17 that were due to Covid-19.
The blue line indicates that neighbourhoods towards the more deprived end are generally higher up in terms of the percentage of deaths that were due to Covid-19.
There are a couple of important caveats to the data. One is that people in poorer areas have always been more likely to die, of all causes. So in a sense it isn’t surprising that Covid-19 should hit them particularly hard. There has always been a death gap between the rich and poor; the signs are, however, that Covid-19 has made it wider.
As Nick Stripe, Head of Health Analysis for the ONS, said: “People living in more deprived areas have experienced Covid-19 mortality rates more than double those living in less deprived areas. General mortality rates are normally higher in more deprived areas, but so far Covid-19 appears to be taking them higher still.”
The second point is that correlation doesn’t necessarily imply causation: being poor doesn’t directly cause you to die of Covid-19, or make you more likely to catch it. Rather there are likely to be other factors which contribute to both poverty and to susceptibility to disease.
For example, it may well be the case that coronavirus spreads in areas where people tend to be closer to each other, such as cities, and the most deprived areas are generally in urban environments.
The new data also breaks down England by the type of place in which each neighbourhood is. This reveals that 64 out of every 100,000 people in major cities died due to Covid-19 up to April 17. Living in a major city is therefore even more of a risk than living in one of the poorest 10% of neighbourhoods.
More sparsely-populated areas saw a much lower mortality rate, with rural hamlets and isolated dwellings registering nine deaths for every 100,000 people.
London skews the statistics by a large margin: the 11 local authorities with the highest mortality rates were all London boroughs.
It is clear, however, that coronavirus can no longer be thought of as affecting everyone equally.