A huge North-South divide has opened up during the coronavirus crisis – with people in Northern communities and the Midlands at greater risk of contracting the killer bug.
People in poorer areas are twice as likely to die from the virus as those in affluent parts of the country, experts have said.
New research shows that Middlesbrough and Walsall have the highest rates of infection in the country – with Wolverhampton, Gateshead and St Helens also among the places where the disease has spread widely.
Figures released by the Centre for Progressive Policy this week show that of the 20 places with the highest infection rates, just one – Luton – is in the south.
And data released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) this morning shows that Covid-19 death rates are more than double in poorer areas.
A decade of Tory austerity and neglect has been blamed for the heartbreaking disparity.
Nick Stripe, head of health analysis at the Office for National Statistics (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.”
Figures showed the number of deaths in deprived areas is 55.1 per 100,000 in England, compared to 25.3 in more affluent areas.
Also in the 10 areas with the highest number of infections per 100,000 people are Sandwell, Knowsley, Blackpool and Sunderland.
Last year Mirror Online’s Town 2020 series highlighted how the country’s most deprived towns are in the North and Midlands.
We visited towns like Middlesbrough and St Helens – which experience lower life expectancy than many other parts of the country – and are now suffering with the coronavirus pandemic.
Labour MP Conor McGinn, who represents St Helens in Merseyside, told Mirror Online that the area’s industrial past has contributed to high rates of respiratory diseases, as it has an older population.
Mr McGinn said: “Added to ten years of austerity that has seen huge funding cuts to the council and NHS, it is understandable that places like ours will be badly affected by coronavirus.”
When the crisis subsides, there is an urgent need to address the huge health gap across the country, Middlesbrough’s MP said.
The figures show there are 350 cases per 100,000 of the population there, making it the most at-risk place for infections in England.
Labour’s Andy McDonald, who has represented the Teesside town since 2012, told Mirror Online: “There appears to be a broad correlation between rates of Covid 19 and areas of multiple deprivation, with Middlesbrough currently within the ten areas for the highest number of confirmed cases.
“We do need to have a greater understanding of why that is.
“We do know that poor health outcomes and chronic illness are directly linked to poverty and this is why there simply has to be an improved settlement for our constituents once we start to emerge from this crisis.”
And he said: “We cannot return to such rampant and unacceptable inequality.”
The Centre for Progressive Policy suggests that just 20% of people in Middlesbrough have jobs which allow them to work from home – meaning the infection rate rises at a higher rate than elsewhere.
It also acknowledged that parts of the north of England appeared to have a higher proportion of infections within their populations than in the south.
MP Ian Mearns, who represents Gateshead, urged a note of caution looking at the figures, however.
He said: “If we’ve got a higher rate of testing, that is one of the reasons the statistics will be higher.
“We must also remember that the hospital in Gateshead takes in patients from Tyneside and parts of Sunderland.
“They might not be just representative of the area.”
By the middle of April, ONS said coronavirus was a factor in 40% of deaths in London – with Newham, Brent and Hackney suffering the highest mortality rates from the disease.
The lowest proportion was in the South West, where one in 10 fatalities had Covid-19 listed on the death certificate.
According to ONS, between the start of March and April 17, 36.6 deaths per 100,000 people in England and 28.4 deaths per 100,000 people in Wales were coronavirus-related.
In London – where the killer bug spread fastest in the early days of the pandemic – this figure was 85.7.
In all areas, the death toll was higher among men than women.
Charity groups have said that the government urgently needs to address the life expectancy gap which has been highlighted during the pandemic.
Iain Porter, social security policy & partnerships manager at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said: “The link between poverty and ill health is well known.
“After the immediate threat of COVID-19 has passed we need an ambitious plan to address the social and economic factors that reduce the healthy life expectancy of people in the worst-off areas.
“But the priority right now is to help families who have been swept into poverty to weather the coronavirus storm.
“That’s why we’re calling for an urgent temporary increase of £20 per week to the child element of Universal Credit & child tax credits to offer a lifeline to families most at risk of hardship.”
Scientists analysing results from the Covid-19 Symptom Tracker app have found that the virus is much more common and more severe in those located in urban areas and regions of higher poverty.
“This could reflect that individuals in more deprived areas are more exposed or vulnerable to the virus,” said Dr Cristina Menni, lead researcher from King’s College London.
“It may be that they work in jobs requiring work out of the home, where they are more likely to be exposed to circulating virus.
“We know from previous research that deprivation is closely linked with increased health issues and disease burden; our results suggest that Covid-19 is no exception.”
The Centre for Progressive Policy believes the ability to work from home is key to avoiding infection, which office workers in a far better position to avoid coming into contact with Covid-19.
Town 2020 series
It said: “While the “lockdown” came into force just over a month ago, some areas have seen case numbers rise much faster than others during April and we have documented particularly acute rises across parts of the North of England.
“Given that the public health restrictions on social distancing are nationwide, this has been a puzzling feature of the last few weeks.
“While data on case numbers is far from perfect and likely to be subject to the effectiveness of local testing, our analysis suggests that those places with a higher proportion of people able to work from home, have seen lower increases in case numbers.”