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England's poorest 'four times more likely' to die from Covid-19

A volunteer packs and prepares food parcels at the Tottenham food bank at Tottenham Town Hall on January 21 ,2021 in London, England [Peter Dench/Getty Images]
A volunteer packs and prepares food parcels at the Tottenham food bank at Tottenham Town Hall on January 21 ,2021 in London, England [Peter Dench/Getty Images]

Adults in England's poorest areas are almost four times more likely to die from Covid-19 than those in the wealthiest areas, an inquiry into the pandemic's impacts has discovered.

The nine-month inquiry carried out by the Health Foundation found that Britain had experienced a higher death toll and more unequal distribution of effects across different sectors of society than other countries in the region. Amongst those effects were the disproportionate differences in risks experienced by the poorest areas compared to the wealthiest.

Adults aged between 50 and 69 in 10 per cent of England's most deprived neighbourhoods were significantly more likely to die from the virus because they were more than twice as likely to suffer from pre-existing long-term health issues such as chronic lung conditions and diabetes. Poor housing conditions and the tendency to work in jobs requiring close contact with others, such as manufacturing, the care sector, and the leisure industry, also had an impact.

The wealthiest neighbourhoods and areas benefitted from higher incomes, the ability to work from home, and good housing, which ensured better health and fewer risks throughout the pandemic.

Covid-19, the inquiry said, has "laid bare" such inequalities which have been brewing since the 2008 financial crash. A primary reason for them was the drastic reduction in public spending and the austerity cuts imposed by successive governments.

"The decline in life expectancy partly reflects the erosion of these social conditions in the UK in the decade preceding the pandemic – affecting certain groups to a greater extent," said the inquiry. When the pandemic hit, therefore, the inequalities "exposed the UK to a high death toll and reduced people's ability to deal with the subsequent economic shock."

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Although the inquiry focused on the general differences in impact between deprived and wealthy areas in England, there is another factor to be taken into account, regarding ethnic minorities and the country's Muslim population.

In a map provided by the charity in its inquiry report, the most deprived areas shown – and those subsequently hit hardest by the pandemic – are around the southeast of England, the Midlands, and in the north. Those are also the areas where most of the country's ethnic minorities live.

According to a study published in 2015, around half of British Muslims were in the bottom 10 per cent of local authority districts. This raises the question of whether Muslims are a significant portion of those in England's poorest areas which suffered the most deaths during the pandemic.

Dame Clare Moriarty, the chair of the inquiry, called for "a recovery that builds economic and social resilience, with 'levelling up' not limited to geographical areas of disadvantage but that addresses the needs of groups who have experienced the most damaging impacts of the pandemic."

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