Local coronavirus restrictions seem to target poorer areas - but is it fair?

Tuesday, 6th October 2020, 9:56 am
Updated Tuesday, 6th October 2020, 10:57 am
Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick are among those MPs whose constituencies have avoided lockdown despite seeing high rates of infection (Photo by TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)

Some wealthier areas of the UK have not had stricter lockdown measures imposed, despite seeing higher rates of coronavirus infection than poorer areas which have been subject to restrictions, it has been revealed.

According to The Times, leaked emails show that public health officials have warned that local lockdown measures are “avoidably increasing economic inequality” and highlighting the “different level of central control applied across local authorities.”

As the government is reported to be weighing up a three tier coronavirus alert system in order to simplify the way local lockdowns work in England, some have suggested that poorer areas have been targeted for local lockdown measures over wealthier areas.

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Director of public health for Blackburn with Darwen, Professor Dominic Harrison, wrote to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) on 1 October, raising concerns that the measures were being introduced unevenly.

He said, “This has the effect of exacerbating the economic inequality impacts of the virus in those areas. We urgently need consistency in the national strategy if the control system itself is not to add to inequality, giving an economic ‘double whammy’ to more challenged areas.”

Blackburn with Darwen is one of the poorest boroughs in the UK.

When officials first put Blackburn with Darwen into local lockdown in August, they did so in areas where the weekly rate was more than 60 new cases per 100,000, and a similar measure has been used elsewhere.

Several poorer areas with similar rates have also been subject to lockdowns, such as Wolverhampton - which has 56 cases per 100,000 people - and Oadby and Wigston, which has 63.

Which areas have avoided lockdown?

But, Professor Harrison highlighted a number of much wealthier areas where the rates were similar or higher, but which had not had further measures introduced.

These include Richmondshire in North Yorkshire, which has 73 cases per 100,000 people, and contains the Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s constituency.

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick’s constituency of Newark and Sherwood has 84 cases per 100,000, as does Conservative chief whip’s Mark Spencer, though both places have avoided lockdowns.

Speaking to ITV, Prime Minister Boris Johnsonwas also asked about infections in his constituency of Uxbridge and South Ruislip, and why restrictions hadn’t been imposed there, despite the rate being twice as high as some areas of the North West which have seen restrictions.

How is it decided which areas will go into local lockdown?

Health Secretary Matt Hancock decides which areas will be placed into local lockdowns during weekly meetings with advisers, although there is no set infection rate or other measure at which the measures are triggered.

Speaking to The Times, Steve Reed, Shadow Housing Secretary, said, “People living in the north and Midlands will be asking why they’re having to face restrictions when other parts of the country that have seen infections rise are not.”

The DHSC said the incidence rate was only one criterion considered in deciding on lockdowns.