Haves and have nots: Sheffield’s poorest hit hardest by Covid as rich and poor divide exposed

Sheffield’s ‘working poor’ have been hit hardest by Covid, with new data exposing the depth of the divide between the city’s haves and have nots when it comes to the pandemic.

Thursday, 11th March 2021, 10:32 am

A ‘toxic combination’ of precarious frontline work, financial insecurity and overcrowded housing are behind the shocking gulf in coronavirus infection rates between Sheffield’s poorest and most affluent communities, a report for BBC’s Newsnight found.

Data from Dr Chris Gibbons, of Sheffield Council’s public health intelligence team, showed that infection rates varied from just above 4,000 confirmed cases per 100,000 people in the 10 per cent of wealthiest residents to nearly 7,000 for Sheffield’s most impoverished citizens.

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Coronavirus infection rates are highest among Sheffield's 'working poor', new figures show (Photo by OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)

Cases were highest not among the very poorest 10 per cent, but those in the 20-30 per cent bracket or decile of lowest incomes, which the city’s director of public health director Greg Fell labelled the ‘working poor’ who are most exposed to the virus.

Speaking on the show, which aired on Tuesday evening, he told reporter Deborah Cohen: “I’m probably surprised by the starkness of it but it was always going to be something that was unequally split and thus it’s turned out to be sadly.

"The impact is really decile three, the working poor, who are most likely to be low paid, with insecure contracts and the inability to afford to isolate, and therefore are out and about more.”

Patrick Meleady, at the Burngreave Food Bank, told the show it was an ‘amazing’ community where many people’s important work put them at greater risk of contracting Covid, from hospital employees to bus and taxi drivers.

"What was out greatest strength is now our greatest weakness as a community because of that,” he added.

Raja Khan, from the Fir Vale Community Hub, described how many of that neighbourhood’s residents were crammed into overcrowded accommodation because they couldn’t afford bigger homes.

"Smaller houses with bigger families creates more illnesses and more people suffering from this illness,” she said.

Sheffield’s health divide is nothing new, with a big gulf in life expectancy between areas just a few miles apart.

People in the city’s poorest communities are more likely to have existing conditions like diabetes and heart disease, making them more vulnerable if they get Covid.

Dr Jennie Joyce, GP and clinical director of Foundry Primary Care Network, claimed populations were often wrongly labelled ‘hard to reach’ when in fact they were ‘under-served’ and that the Covid wealth divide could have been foreseen.

"I think if you'd asked people on the ground, people locally, like public health, they would have said this is going to be the issue, these people are going to self-isolate,” she said.

The report also highlighted how the pandemic had only widened the already existing inequalities, plunging those already living on the breadline into greater difficulty.

It pointed to a study by Sheffield Citizens Advice Bureau which found poorer communities were feeling the impact of being unable to travel to cheaper shops, facing higher heating and lighting costs and higher debts.

But Gulnaz Hussein, from the Fir Vale Community Hub, said the pandemic was just another of the risks those communities were used to facing.

"We have commuity resilience, being able to know how to cope in difficult situations,” she added.