Covid-19 disproportionately affects the most deprived, new analysis shows

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.



CityMetric is now City Monitor! Come see us at our new home

City Monitor is now live in beta at

CityMetric is now City Monitor, a name that reflects both a ramping up of our ambitions as well as our membership in a network of like-minded publications from New Statesman Media Group. Our new site is now live in beta, so please visit us there going forward. Here’s what CityMetric readers should know about this exciting transition.  

Regular CityMetric readers may have already noticed a few changes around here since the spring. CityMetric’s beloved founding editor, Jonn Elledge, has moved on to some new adventures, and a new team has formed to take the site into the future. It’s led by yours truly – I’m Sommer Mathis, the editor-in-chief of City Monitor. Hello!

My background includes having served as the founding editor of CityLab, editor-in-chief of Atlas Obscura, and editor-in-chief of DCist, a local news publication in the District of Columbia. I’ve been reporting on and writing about cities in one way or another for the past 15 years. To me, there is no more important story in the world right now than how cities are changing and adapting to an increasingly challenging global landscape. The majority of the world’s population lives in cities, and if we’re ever going to be able to tackle the most pressing issues currently facing our planet – the climate emergency, rising inequality, the Covid-19 pandemic ­­­– cities are going to have to lead the way.

That’s why City Monitor is now a global publication dedicated to the future of cities everywhere – not just in the UK (nor for that matter just in the US, where I live). Our mission is to help our readers, many of whom are in leadership positions around the globe, navigate how cities are changing and discover what’s next in the world of urban policy. We’ll do that through original reporting, expert opinion and most crucially, a data-driven approach that emphasises evidence and rigorous analysis. We want to arm local decision-makers and those they work in concert with – whether that’s elected officials, bureaucratic leaders, policy advocates, neighbourhood activists, academics and researchers, entrepreneurs, or plain-old engaged citizens – with real insights and potential answers to tough problems. Subjects we cover include transportation, infrastructure, housing, urban design, public safety, the environment, the economy, and much more.

The City Monitor team is made up of some of the most experienced urban policy journalists in the world. Our managing editor is Adam Sneed, also a CityLab alum where he served as a senior associate editor. Before that he was a technology reporter at Politico. Allison Arieff is City Monitor’s senior editor. She was previously editorial director of the urban planning and policy think tank SPUR, as well as a contributing columnist for The New York Times. Staff writer Jake Blumgart most recently covered development, housing and politics for WHYY, the local public radio station in Philadelphia. And our data reporter is Alexandra Kanik, whose previous roles include data reporting for Louisville Public Media in Kentucky and PublicSource in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Our team will continue to grow in the coming weeks, and we’ll also be collaborating closely with our editorial colleagues across New Statesman Media Group. In fact, we’re launching a whole network of new publications, covering topics such as the clean energy transition, foreign direct investment, technology, banks and more. Many of these sectors will frequently overlap with our cities coverage, and a key part of our plan is make the most of the expertise that all of these newsrooms combined will bring to bear on our journalism.

Please visit going forward, where you can also sign up for our free email newsletter.

As for CityMetric, some of its archives have already been moved over to the new website, and the rest will follow not long after. If you’re looking for a favourite piece from CityMetric’s past, for a time you’ll still be able to find it here, but before long the whole archive will move over to City Monitor.

On behalf of the City Monitor team, I’m thrilled to invite you to come along for the ride at our new digs. You can follow City Monitor on LinkedIn and on Twitter. If you’re interested in learning more about the potential for a commercial partnership with City Monitor, please get in touch with our director of partnerships, Joe Maughan.

I want to thank and congratulate Jonn Elledge on a brilliant run. Everything we do from here on out will be building on the legacy of his work, and the community that he built here at CityMetric. Cheers, Jonn!

To our readers, on behalf of the City Monitor team, thank you from all of us for being such loyal CityMetric fans. We couldn’t have done any of this without you.

Sommer Mathis is editor-in-chief of City Monitor.