A “perfect storm” of low wages, cramped housing and failures of the £22bn test-and-trace scheme has led to “stubbornly high” coronavirus rates in England’s most deprived communities, an unpublished government report by the Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC) has found.
A classified analysis produced last month, concluded that “unmet financial needs” meant people in poorer areas were less likely to be able to self-isolate because they could not afford to lose income.
In two of the UK’s worst-hit areas, Blackburn-with-Darwen and Leicester, the study found that more people seeking financial help to self-isolate had been rejected than accepted. It said: “This could increase the likelihood for individuals to be unable to comply with self-isolation requirements as a result of their unmet needs.”
JBC, a government agency set up last May, concluded that “interconnected factors” such as deprivation, poor housing and work conditions, and delays in the test-and-trace system, were all “likely to be significant contributors” to the high coronavirus rates in some areas. It found evidence that areas with a higher proportion of workers in public-facing roles, such as health and social care, taxi drivers or supermarket workers, were likely to experience high infection rates.
It said: “Having high numbers of people in high-risk occupation is not specific to just these enduring areas. This in isolation is not a reason for enduring transmission, but rather along with a range of other factors, overlaid, that create the ‘perfect storm’.”
It said that “existing socioeconomic inequality” had left black, Asian and minority ethnic communities at greater exposure to Covid-19 as they were more likely to live in cramped and multigenerational housing in deprived areas and hold public-facing jobs. Despite this, the report noted: “Guidance around how to self-isolate safely in high-density housing does not appear to exist for England as it does for Scotland and Northern Ireland.”
The report said there was no single cause for enduring Covid transmission “and therefore no silver bullet to resolve the issue”, adding: “Instead, it is likely to be due to a unique mix of factors in each location eg many of the factors are also interlinked and aligned: deprivation – employment – household composition.”