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UK’s poorest areas facing Covid-19 ‘double whammy’ of illness and poverty

Researchers will "redraw the UK’s map of inequality" with a new inquiry set to help ministers support deprived areas through the pandemic
Worse-off families are at greater risk of developing severe Covid-19, according to new figures published by The Health Foundation.

Half of the areas with the highest Covid-19 death rates in Britain are in the poorest 30 per cent of local authorities, the study shows.

Research by the Health Foundation has shone a light on the impact the pandemic, and Government responses to it, are having on disadvantaged communities – with already struggling areas being hit hardest by both health and money worries.

The data also showed that the number of working age people claiming Universal Credit rose by eight per cent in the country’s poorest areas between March and August, compared to a five per cent increase in the wealthiest areas.

People in places like Barnsley, Wolverhampton and Newham were already facing shorter life expectancies before Covid-19 gripped the UK. Now the gap between rich and poor is widening, both in terms of health outcomes and staying afloat financially.

It should concern us all that the consequences of the pandemic are falling unevenly

Jo Bibby, director of health at the Health Foundation, said: “It should concern us all that the consequences of the pandemic are falling unevenly.”

The findings are triggering a new inquest led by the Foundation. Its Covid-19 Impact Inquiry will investigate the pandemic’s effect on already-existing health inequalities to provide evidence that could shape government policy.

Set to examine the experiences of diverse groups across the UK, the expert advisory panel will report in summer next year. It will be led by former civil service permanent secretary Clare Moriarty and will include University College London professor of epidemiology Sir Michael Marmot, Carnegie UK Trust CEO Sarah Davidson and Lord Victor Adebowale, non-executive director of Nuffield Health.

The inquiry will focus on the most affected communities to ensure that “no one is left behind when it comes to developing national recovery policies,” Bibby added.

Disabled people are also being hit particularly hard by high Covid-19 death rates, the Health Foundation said, at two to three times more deaths than non-disabled people.

And Ipsos MORI polling previously found that those from a black and minority ethnic background were finding it particularly difficult to make ends meet during the pandemic, with 43 per cent reporting that their income had taken a hit since March compared to 35 per cent overall.

Inquiry chair and former senior civil servant Clare Moriarty emphasised that it is not the virus alone that has affected the health of the nation, but also the measures introduced in response.

She said: “People have lost jobs and income, seen medical treatment cancelled and been asked to stay indoors for weeks on end. Children and young people have missed out on their education and opportunities to build social lives. Across the country, people’s health and mental wellbeing has been affected and, as this research shows, the pandemic is intensifying and amplifying existing health inequalities.

“The Covid-19 Impact Inquiry aims to join up all these different issues to build a bigger picture of the impact the pandemic has had on our communities across the UK. We believe the findings will provide Government with a solid evidence base to inform their recovery policies and tackle these very big issues of inequality to ensure that everyone’s health and wellbeing is protected in the long term.”

Earlier this year, a Public Health England report revealed that Covid-19 deaths in deprived areas during lockdown were more than double those in the wealthiest areas, and higher in BAME people than among white ethnic groups.

The findings demonstrated that the worst-off people were more likely to be exposed to the virus, and that existing inequality – resulting in poor health – put them at a greater risk of severe symptoms.

This exposed the “structural disadvantage and discrimination” faced by BAME people, the Health Foundation said in response, pointing out that they are more likely to work in a key sector like health and social care or food production.