Health inequality and COVID-19

07 May 2020

Health inequalities are the unjust and avoidable differences in the length of people’s lives. They are determined by the social, economic, political and environmental circumstances we live in.

Understanding these inequalities means we know that, far from being ‘the great leveller’ that some have described, the impact of coronavirus will be hardest felt by those who already experience disadvantage.

There are already stark differences in life expectancy and healthy life expectancy between different neighbourhoods and groups of people, which have widened over the past ten years.

On 1 May, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) released data which provisionally examines the difference in the number of deaths involving COVID-19 between local areas in England and Wales with different levels of socio-economic deprivation.

Looking at data on deaths between 1 March and 17 April, Nick Stripe the Head of Health Analysis at ONS summarised the findings by saying:

“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.”

On 7 May, the ONS released data on COVID-19 related deaths by ethnic groups in England and Wales, between 2 March 2020 to 10 April 2020. This provisional analysis of early data found that the risk of death involving the coronavirus among some ethnic groups is significantly higher than that of those of White ethnicity.

During the period, ONS found Black males and females were over four times more likely likely to die from a COVID-19-related death than White ethnicity males and females, when taking age into account. People of Bangladeshi and Pakistani, Indian, and Mixed ethnicities also had statistically significant raised risk of death involving COVID-19 compared with those of White ethnicity.

When taking account of age and other socio-demographic characteristics and measures of self-reported health and disability at the 2011 Census, the ONS found:

  • the risk of a COVID-19-related death for males and females of Black ethnicity was 1.9 times more likely than those of White ethnicity;
  • and males in the Bangladeshi and Pakistani ethnic group were 1.8 times more likely to have a COVID-19-related death than White males. For females, the figure was 1.6 times more likely.

The analysis concluded that the difference between ethnic groups in COVID-19 mortality is partly a result of socio-economic disadvantage and other circumstances, but ONS report that a remaining part of the difference has not yet been explained.

John Hume, CEO of People’s Health Trust said: “This data offers only a provisional understanding of what’s going on, and we must continue to examine the variety of reasons behind these inequalities. However, this early picture is deeply concerning. Government and civil society cannot wait the months and years it will take to have the full picture before taking action.

Looking at what we already know about health inequality, it is clear how vital it is to stand alongside disadvantaged communities now, as well in the medium and longer term as we continue to respond to this pandemic. To listen to and act on what they say needs to happen next, and take seriously the threat of ever-widening health and social inequalities in Great Britain today.”

To read more news from the Trust, click here.

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