Turns out coronavirus does discriminate, after all.
Just as the Prime Minister urged people to return to work in their millions, new figures from the Office for National Statistics have shown a huge gap in who is hardest hit by coronavirus.
While healthcare workers – including doctors and nurses – were not found to have higher rates of death involving Covid-19 when compared with the wider public, care workers are roughly twice as likely to die from Covid as others from similar demographics.
Overall, the sectors where workers are most at risk include construction and cleaning, according to the ONS. Nursing assistants and ambulance drivers also have a higher risk.
Among women workers, carers have have the highest rates of coronavirus deaths. For men, security staff and ‘elementary plant’ workers – such as those in foundries, engineering and allied trades – had the greatest risk.
Unions have sounded the alarm over the figures, calling for urgent action to address the risks and lack of protection.
John Phillips, Acting GMB General Secretary, said: “These figures are horrifying, and they were drawn up before the chaos of last night’s announcement. If you are low paid and working through the COVID19 crisis you are more likely to die – that’s how stark these figures are.
“Ministers must pause any return to work until proper guidelines, advice and enforcement are in place to keep people safe.”
Jonathan Ashworth MP, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, said the figures were a ‘devastating confirmation that Covid-19 thrives on inequality’:
“Everyone must be protected properly from this horrific virus. Ordering people back to work without proper protection puts them and everyone else at risk. We entered this public health emergency with health inequalities widening and life expectancy stalling. We now need a plan to tackle these widening health inequalities which see poorer people become ill quicker and die sooner.”
Liberal Democrat Health, Wellbeing and Social Care spokesperson Munira Wilson picked up on the death rates among care workers – calling for proper PPE.
“Throughout the coronavirus crisis, those working in social care have been continuing to work on the frontline, putting themselves in harm’s way to look after our loved ones….
“Despite repeated questioning, Ministers are still struggling to answer basic questions regarding how they will ensure a consistent supply of PPE to care workers. It’s clear that social care has been an afterthought in the Government’s pandemic planning,” she said.
Helen Barnard, Acting Director of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said: “[These] figures are another stark reminder that although we are all weathering the same storm, we are not all in the same boat…
“As the Government considers how to wind down its economic interventions, it is vital that the health of workers in these roles is prioritised, and that financial support is available as a lifeline to anyone who needs it. No one should have to go out to earn in order to stay afloat if it puts their health at risk.
“In the longer term, we must ask ourselves what kind of society we want to live in after the virus passes. This means rethinking how we treat the low-paid workers who have sustained us and kept us safe during this crisis.”
IWGB General Secretary Jason Moyer-Lee said: “The fact that security guards and private hire drivers have one of the highest death rates from Covid-19 is unfortunately not very surprising. The workers on the front lines, who cannot work from home, and often work for some of the worst employers in the UK are at extreme risk. Their health and safety needs to be treated with far more care.
“That is why the IWGB is taking legal action against the government over its failure to provide proper income protection and sick pay to millions of precarious workers.”
Josiah Mortimer is co-editor of Left Foot Forward.