A MEMBER of two prominent Bradford organisations has revealed his thoughts on how coronavirus is affecting both those in the poorest parts of the country, and those of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) origin.

Shahid Islam - who is a member of community group Bradford4Better and research foundation Born in Bradford - believes that people of lower socio-economic status, and also people of an ethnic minority background, are being disproportionately affected by the virus.

Mr. Islam believes that social and economic factors - including poorer standards of housing and poorer diets - are all having an influence on which groups in society seem to be at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19.

His views come in the wake of a new interactive map, included in the latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) report, which shows coronavirus fatalities by postcode area.

The map found that some of the most deprived areas of England and Wales suffered 55 deaths per 100,000 people, compared to 25 fatalities in the wealthiest areas, suggesting that those in poorer areas are dying at more than double the rate of their wealthier counterparts.

The figures have been taken from deaths that occured between 1 March and 17 April, and were registered by 18 April.

Looking at the data, Nick Stripe, Head of Health Analysis at the Office for National Statistics, 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."

Mr. Islam said he was not surprised by the data, and believes that social deprivation has been causing health disparities long before the onset of the current pandemic.

"Whilst the data is alarming, it is not surprising, because we have known for decades that living in areas with higher levels of poverty often leads to an earlier death and higher rates of health problems", he said.

"People have said that this virus does not discriminate, but when we look at the data, then this statement doesn't hold. 

"ONS data shows that poorer areas experience more than twice as many deaths as affluent areas, and it is also known that people from BAME backgrounds are three-and-a-half times more likely to die from coronavirus compared to white British people.

"Also, many more men die per 100,000 people than women do, and, of course, the older generations experience higher mortality rates than younger people. 

"As far as poorer areas are concerned, we have known for decades that deprivation often leads to a cluster of disadvantages, and these all work together to create worse outcomes, in terms of health.

"For example, poorer areas have schools where children may leave with poorer grades, which leads to higher levels of unemployment, which leads to poorer diets and poorer standards of housing, which then has a knock-on effect on health. 

"Health problems such as a higher prevelance of heart disease, diabetes and respiratory problems create a tinderbox for COVID-19 to cause the damage we are seeing. Add to these factors the issue of multi-generational families living together, and more people living in close proximity to each other - enabling the virus to spread - then the risk only increases.

"Problems of health inequalities existed well before the pandemic came to our shores, but the clear disparity in death rates has put the spotlight on the problem", Mr. Islam added.

"But, we need to be really careful to not allow the data showing these disparities to be manipulated, by people who wish to fuel mistrust and conspiracy theories. 

"The problems can only get worse if people who need treatment stay away from services. The priority should be to reduce the gaps in health inequalities, by taking all of these points very seriously."

Charity leaders say the “worrying trend” revealed by the ONS reflects how deprived families are more likely to live in cramped housing, with many identified as essential workers who cannot work from home.

David Finch, Senior Fellow at the Health Foundation, said: “Those facing greater socio-economic disadvantage tend to live in cramped housing conditions and many are now classified as essential workers who don’t have the option of working from home, placing them at higher risk of exposure to COVID-19.

“People living in more deprived areas are also more likely to have one or more long-term health conditions, which means they are at greater risk of suffering severe symptoms from the virus if exposed.”

Helen Barnard, Acting Director at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said: “It’s crucial that all aspects of the spread of this virus are carefully examined, but we know that people in more deprived areas are less likely to have jobs where they can work from home.

“This means they may have to face a very significant drop in income or keep going to work, facing greater risks of catching the virus.

“They are also more likely to live in overcrowded homes, increasing the risk for whole families. This just is not right.”

Imran Hussain, Director of Policy and Campaigns at Action for Children, said: “These figures make clear once again that investing in the nation’s health means tackling poverty, and this is just as much a priority as funding the NHS.

“Those on low incomes are more likely not only to have poorer underlying health but also work in jobs that put them at greater risk of exposure to the coronavirus.”

Shadow Health Secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, said: “This is a devastating confirmation that the virus thrives on inequality, with people living in more deprived areas seeing COVID-19 mortality rates more than double those in less deprived areas.

“Labour has long warned of shameful health inequalities which mean the poorest contract illness earlier in life and die sooner.

“COVID-19 exacerbates existing inequalities in our country. Ministers must target health inequalities with an overarching strategy to tackle the wider social determinants of ill-health.”