North East England worst affected by Covid-19 last month, official figures show
Poverty and inequality were to blame for the North East having the worst coronavirus mortality rate of any of the English regions last month, senior politicians have said.
Official figures showed May’s death rate of an estimated 33.1 per 100,000 people was double that of London.
Outside London, Middlesbrough had the highest mortality rate for the three months covering March 1 to May 31.
Middlesbrough’s elected mayor Andy Preston, who made a controversial decision to close the town’s parks, said: “Sadly, while shocking and devastating for the families involved, these statistics aren’t surprising.
“Decades of severe deprivation in Middlesbrough has led to poor health and high death rates. Raising all of our communities out of deprivation is our biggest challenge.
“It is exactly why I insisted that Middlesbrough was a special case and that our parks had to remain closed when parks elsewhere were open.”
Labour Sunderland City Council leader councillor Graeme Miller said the virus has had a tragic impact on the city.
He said: “The statistics all indicate that more deprived areas of England and Wales with higher proportions of people with long-term medical conditions, low incomes, elderly or vulnerable are more likely to die than those of more affluent areas.
“These are the stark facts behind what’s been happening in our city, in the North East region and other less well-off parts of the country.
“Reducing inequality and poverty will help make our city healthier.”
Labour’s elected North of Tyne mayor Jamie Driscoll said: “We’ve always known that how much money you have affects your lifespan.
“Covid-19 has brought this into sharp relief. We’ve had chronic underinvestment in the North East for decades.
“There’s a 17-year difference in healthy lifespan between rich areas and poor areas.
“This will only change when English regions get to make their own decisions. If we get the budgets, we can invest in prevention – tackling obesity, poor housing, and stressful insecure employment that cause poor health.
“If we invest to save, it improves lives, and will save us all money in the long run.
“If the Government is serious about wanting to level-up, they’ll include this in the devolution white paper later this year.”
The Tory Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen said the North East was up to six weeks behind London in its coronavirus cycle.
He said: “There has been a phenomenal national effort to win the battle against the coronavirus and we are winning.
“Deaths are coming down in the North East and I hope we see that trend continuing over the coming days and weeks.”
Newcastle University’s public health expert, Professor Clare Bambra said it was no surprise that social inequality had led to a worse outcome from Covid-19 for the North East.
Factors included there being more people with lower paid roles that could not be performed from home, smaller homes with less outside space and the legacy of heavy industry leaving to retired workers with long-term health problems, making them more vulnerable to the virus.
She said: “Heart disease and diabetes rates are much higher in the region, and that might be why if people up here get it, they are more likely to die from it.”