Social Justice

Prioritise people in poverty for Covid vaccine, says Manchester mayor

People in poverty are more likely to be exposed to the virus and develop severe symptoms. Andy Burnham said deprived areas should be supplied with more doses

The Government should give poorer parts of the UK more Covid-19 vaccine doses, the Mayor of Greater Manchester has said, after research showed people in poverty were more at risk.

Speaking on Sky News, Labour politician Andy Burnham called for flexibility in the vaccination programme that allowed for places with lower life expectancy to vaccinate populations sooner rather than later.

“The life expectancy rate varies very widely across the UK,” Burnham said.

“There are places where it is 10 years behind the areas where it is highest. In those areas, people who are in their 60s have the same level of health as people in their 70s in other areas.

“It also is the case that those same areas where life expectancy is lowest tend to be the places where more people are out at work in those key professions, working in essential retail and supermarkets or driving buses or driving taxis. Clearly they are at greater risk,” he added.

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Worse-off families are at greater risk of developing severe Covid-19, Health Foundation research has shown.

Of the areas with the highest coronavirus death rates in Britain, half were in the poorest 30 per cent of councils.

Experts blamed existing inequalities which drove down health levels, as well as increased likelihood of being exposed to the virus compared to people in wealthier areas.

Those in more deprived towns and cities were more likely to work in retail, health and social care or food production and less likely to be able to work safely from home.

Three-quarters of applications for £500 Covid self isolation grants turned down, according to Labour. Many low-paid workers had to choose between staying home to stop the spread of the virus and being able to afford their bills.

“I’m not saying diverge completely from the phased approach set out by ages put forward by the JCVI,” Burnham said.

“But I am saying put greater supplies of the vaccine into those areas where life expectancy is lowest and allow greater flexibility for people to be called earlier.”

Crowded, poor-quality housing was also to blame for putting disadvantaged people at greater risk of developing severe Covid-19, according to research by the King’s Fund.

“Those in poverty [are] often in poorer health so are in effect biologically older,” said Joe McManners, Labour councillor for Oxford. 

“Current prioritisation is not sophisticated enough to take this into account. It needs to be,” he added.

“It’s also clearly a wider issue than just the Covid vaccine.”

“Structural racism” as well as poverty was stopping people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds from getting the healthcare they needed, University of Manchester academics said recently. People over 55 from Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Arab and traveller backgrounds had roughly the same health levels of white British people over 75, their research showed. 

Burnham was “quite right” in his thinking, according to Neil McInroy, CEO of the Centre for Local Economic Strategies.

“I have long argued for this. We need to consider poverty and race alongside other vulnerable groups in prioritising vaccine,” he added.

Some councils such as Liverpool plus Redbridge and Oldham have already stepped in to prioritise people experiencing homelessness for the Covid-19 vaccine, with an understanding that they are more likely to have underlying health conditions and will find it harder to self isolate.

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