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COVID-19 – now is the time to redraw the UK’s map of inequality UK-wide inquiry begins as the Health Foundation warns of rising health inequalities due to pandemic

5 October 2020

About 5 mins to read

Some of Britain’s poorest communities are facing a double whammy of health and financial hardship as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the responses to it, warned the Health Foundation today.

Unless action is taken, the health inequalities that exist between the richest and poorest communities across the UK are set to widen. A new inquiry launched today by the health charity brings together a range of experts to shine a light on the different ways the pandemic, and the national response to it, are affecting the health of the nation. Its findings will guide the action needed as the country recovers, to ensure everyone has the opportunity to lead long and healthy lives.

New research by the charity shows that poorer areas are more likely to have experienced some of the very highest COVID-19 death rates and they are also increasingly showing signs of intense financial hardship:

  • Of the 10 local areas in Great Britain with the highest death rates from COVID-19, half of them are from the poorest 30% of local authorities.
  • The share of the working age population receiving Universal Credit increased by 8% in the poorest areas between March and August, compared with a 5% increase in the wealthiest.

This means communities such as Barnsley, Wolverhampton and Newham – where people already face shorter lives lived in poorer health – are experiencing a disproportionate COVID-19 burden as well as intensive financial hardship.

This comes on top of other evidence that certain groups have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic:

  • Disabled people have death rates 2–3 times higher than non-disabled people, according to ONS data.
  • People from a black and minority ethnic background are more likely to report that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative impact on their income, with 43% reporting a negative financial impact compared to 35% overall, according to polling conducted by Ipsos MORI*.
  • Young people are most likely to have lost employment, with 1 in 3 of 18–24-year-olds having been furloughed or lost their job – twice the rate of working-age adults overall, according to analysis by the Resolution Foundation and the Health Foundation.

The Health Foundation’s inquiry, which will report in the summer of 2021, will explore different dimensions of inequalities and how these are likely to affect people’s health now and in the future. It will also learn the lessons from the positive action taken by communities across the UK to adapt to the challenges faced. Drawing evidence from a wide range of sources and inviting diverse groups across the UK to inform its work, the report will provide a comprehensive analysis of the factors that will need to be addressed to put the UK back on the road to recovery.

The inquiry will be informed by an expert advisory panel led by Clare Moriarty, a former civil service Permanent Secretary, and will include Sir Michael Marmot, Professor of Epidemiology at University College London, Sarah Davidson, CEO of the Carnegie UK Trust, and Lord Victor Adebowale, non-Executive Director of Nuffield Health and previous CEO of Turning Point, among others.

Clare Moriarty, Chair of the COVID-19 impact inquiry, commented:

'It is not just the virus that has affected people’s health but also measures introduced in response. 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.'

Jo Bibby, Director of Health, the Health Foundation, said:

'The pandemic has reminded us how highly we value our health. Rightly so, as a healthy population is one of our society’s most important assets. It should concern us all that the consequences of the pandemic are falling unevenly. Our inquiry will place those groups who were most affected at the heart of our analysis to ensure that no one is left behind when it comes to developing national recovery policies.'

Notes to editors

On 5 October, the Health Foundation will host a webinar to share their learnings so far on the impact that the pandemic is having on the wider determinants of health, alongside sharing information on the areas of focus for the inquiry, how it will be carried out and what they hope it will achieve.

Find out more about the inquiry and its expert advisory panel

Health Foundation analysis method

Excess deaths are calculated as total deaths during the first wave of the pandemic minus the average of deaths over the same period of the previous five years as a share of average deaths over the same period of the previous five years.

The pandemic period for England and Wales covers weeks ending 20 March to 12 June, for Scotland it covers week ending 22 March to 14 June.

The share of the working age population receiving Universal Credit is calculated by dividing the total number of people receiving Universal Credit in each local authority, divided by the 18–65 year  old population.

Deprivation deciles are constructed to reflect relative differences in deprivation within each country of Great Britain, they do not compare level of deprivation between countries. Deprivation rankings are weighted by population to construct deciles.

Eilean Siar, Isles of Scilly and City of London were removed due to historic small number of deaths.


ONS, Monthly provisional figures on deaths registered by area of usual residence, 2020; ONS, Death registrations and occurrences by local authority and health board; NRS: Deaths involving coronavirus (COVID-19) in Scotland; MHCLG, English indices of deprivation; Scottish Government, Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation 2020; StatsWales, Welsh Index of Multiple Deprivation. ONS, 2019-based UK population estimates; DWP, statexplore.

About the survey

*On behalf of the Health Foundation, Ipsos MORI undertook a survey among a representative sample of adults aged 18 and over across Great Britain. Fieldwork was carried out over the telephone between 17 and 29 July 2020 on Ipsos MORI’s CATI Omnibus survey. A total of 2,246 adults were interviewed. For the main sample, quotas were set on age, gender, Government Office Region and working status. In addition to the people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds interviewed as part of the main sample, a booster survey was conducted. The sample includes a total of 423 interviews conducted with black and minority ethnic participants, of which 181 participants were interviewed as part of the main sample and 242 as part of the booster sample.

For the overall findings, data has been weighted to the known population proportions for age within gender, Government Office Region and working status and social grade. For the black and minority ethnic background findings, data has been weighted to the known population proportions for age, gender, Government Office Region, working status and social grade.

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