Poorer northern areas more vulnerable to coronavirus impact, report finds

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Areas in the North are more vulnerable to the health and social impacts of coronavirus, a new report has suggested.

Research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) suggests that, while there is no simple North-South divide in the likely impact of coronavirus across England, in poorer northern areas, which also have relatively older populations, children may be especially at risk from lost schooling.

The report also found that coastal areas are particularly vulnerable to both the health and economic impacts of the pandemic.

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Due to their elderly populations and economic reliance on the tourism and hospitality industries, the research suggests that Torbay and the Isle of Wight are the two areas most at risk.

People walk past a social distancing sign, ahead of the re-opening of non-essential retailers in England on June 15. Photo: PAPeople walk past a social distancing sign, ahead of the re-opening of non-essential retailers in England on June 15. Photo: PA
People walk past a social distancing sign, ahead of the re-opening of non-essential retailers in England on June 15. Photo: PA

The study confirms that areas in the northern spine of England are more vulnerable than average to the health and social impacts of coronavirus, with children there particularly affected by the loss of time in the classroom.

These include South Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, which have relatively older and more deprived populations.

Sheffield City Region mayor Dan Jarvis said: “We know that coronavirus is not affecting all areas of the country equally, with the R rate falling more quickly in some areas than in others. We therefore need access to up-to-date, quality data, at a regional and local level, so that we can quickly identify any resurgence and if necessary, re-implement lockdown measures to ensure the safety of the public.

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“Government also needs to listen to the expertise and on-the-ground knowledge coming from Metro Mayors and other regional leaders and use this insight to drive national policy-making. This means giving Mayors, or at least a regional Mayor, a seat on COBRA, which will help to ensure the London-centric approach we’ve seen thus far is replaced with a more balanced, informed outlook with the safety of the whole country at its heart.”

The research by the IFS, funded by the Nuffield Foundation as part of the IFS Deaton Review of Inequalities, also finds that, while there are some regional patterns in vulnerability, in many cases neighbouring local authorities are likely to have very different experiences of the crisis.

Due to this, designing policy to reflect these different local needs will require a highly co-ordinated response drawing on different services and layers of government, the IFS said.

IFS research economist Alex Davenport, author of the report, said: “There is a small group of local authorities in England where public health, local jobs and families are all more vulnerable than average. While several of these areas are in the North West, the group includes local authorities from Dorset to Northumberland.

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“But it is Torbay and the Isle of Wight that stand out as the most highly vulnerable, reflecting their elderly populations, reliance on tourism and hospitality, and pockets of socio-economic disadvantage.”

Research director at the IFS Imran Rasul warned that the geographical impact of coronavirus will be hard to manage.

He said: “There is no single measure that captures all the different types of vulnerability during this crisis. The risks to public health, local economies and vulnerable families are spread across England in a patchwork.

“The crisis will require policymakers at different levels to co-ordinate their response, since the geography of vulnerabilities has shifted away from the traditional North–South or urban–rural divides.”

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Mark Franks, director of welfare at the Nuffield Foundation, said: “This report illustrates how different areas of England will be affected by the virus in a unique way, which means the impact on health, jobs and families will evolve differently within each area as we progress through the stages of this crisis.

“The Government needs to understand these localised differences in timescales and impacts in order to work effectively with local authorities to target the right support in the right areas at the right time.”