Low-paid workers more likely to die from Covid-19

Unite calls for public inquiry amid 'alarming' figures of low-paid worker coronavirus death rates

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Workers in low-paid jobs are at greatest risk from dying of coronavirus, new figures have shown, prompting Unite to call for a public inquiry.

The latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) published today (May 11) found that male security guards have among the highest Covid-19 death rates as do male construction workers, taxi drivers, bus and coach drivers, plant processing workers and chefs.

Men working as security guards had the highest death rates from coronavirus, at 45.7 deaths per 100,000, followed by male taxi drivers and chauffeurs at 36.4 deaths per 100,000. Other professions that ranked high for coronavirus death rates included male bus and coach workers at 26.4 deaths per 100,000 and male chefs at 35.9 deaths per 100,000.

For comparison, coronavirus death rates for all working age men across professions stood at 9.9 per 100,000, while the working age death rate for women across professions was 5.2 per 100,000.

Health workers such as doctors and nurses did not have an elevated risk of dying from coronavirus compared to other people of the same age and sex. By contrast, care workers did face a much greater risk of death and also had the highest number of overall coronavirus deaths out of any sector, where 131 deaths were recorded.

Of those, 86 women in the care sector have died, equating to 9.6 female care worker deaths per 100,000, while 45 men have died in the sector, amounting to 23.4 male care worker deaths per 100,000.

Overall coronavirus deaths in frontline transport were also notably high, with 30 bus workers deaths in total, as well as 29 lorry driver deaths and 33 van driver fatalities.

The ONS also looked at rates of coronavirus exposure by profession, with workers in health care settings such as doctors, nurses and dentists being the most exposed to coronavirus.

The raised exposure risk was also significant for low-ranking prison officers, vets, opticians and residential care wardens.

Three in four people in high risk exposure roles were women, while one in five were aged 55 and over. One in five in jobs with high exposure to coronavirus were also from a BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) background.

The latest ONS figures are an analysis of coronavirus deaths in England and Wales up until April 20 and comes after NHS England released figures showing BAME people were twice as likely to die from coronavirus than their white counterparts.  

The analysis of hospital deaths found that people from Black Caribbean backgrounds had hospital death rates from coronavirus of 78 per 100,000, compared to only 27 per 100,000 of those of white British backgrounds. People of Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Indian, and other black and Asian backgrounds were also at greater risk than white Britons.

The IFS has said that one possibility explaining the ethnic disparity is that BAME people are much more likely to be working as key or essential workers than white Britons and so may have greater exposure to the virus.

Unite has said the latest shocking statistics of higher death rates of low-paid workers, coupled with previous data about increased death rates among BAME people, must lead to a full public inquiry from the government.

“These figures are alarming and it is imperative that we learn all the lessons possible now and when this pandemic is over that there is a full public inquiry into these deaths,” said Unite assistant general secretary Diana Holland.

“We must never forget this is not about statistics, but each and every death is an individual tragedy where a loved one has died,” she added.

“While lessons need to be learned for the future, it is immediately imperative that all workplaces examine these figures and urgently revisit how more effective measures can be taken to protect workers who have remained in work or who are returning to the workplace. Thorough risk assessments are vital and government needs to make sure they happen.

“This is only an early snapshot of this dreadful disease but it is clear that lower paid workers often from a BAME background have been at the greatest risk of dying during the pandemic,” Holland went on to say.

“An inquiry is needed to understand if measures such as the lockdown was introduced too late and whether frontline workers were able to effectively socially distance at work, if effective cleaning regimes were in place and if workers were provided with the necessary PPE to properly protect them.”

By Hajera Blagg

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