Intended for healthcare professionals


Poverty, health, and covid-19

BMJ 2021; 372 doi: (Published 12 February 2021) Cite this as: BMJ 2021;372:n376

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  1. Margaret Whitehead, W H Duncan professor of public health,
  2. David Taylor-Robinson, professor of public health and policy,
  3. Ben Barr, professor of applied public health research
  1. Department of Public Health, Policy and Systems, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, UK
  1. Correspondence to: M Whitehead mmw{at}

Yet again, poor families will be hardest hit by the pandemic’s long economic fallout

Covid-19 does not strike at random—mortality is much higher in elderly people, poorer groups, and ethnic minorities, and its economic effect is also unevenly distributed across the population. The economic fallout is likely to be felt for years. Without concerted preventive action worse off families and communities will be disproportionately affected, increasing health inequalities in the UK and globally.

Even before covid-19, extremely disturbing trends in health were emerging in England. Growing child poverty, homelessness, and food poverty led to an unprecedented rise in infant mortality, mental health problems, and stalling life expectancy, especially for women in the poorest areas and cities.1 These were the same areas where 10 years of austerity measures had hit the poorest groups the hardest. Larger cuts in government funding to local authorities with higher proportions of children in poverty meant a reduction in spending on vital preventive services in areas where they were needed most.2 The pandemic arrived in the middle of this worrying scene and amplified existing inequalities.

Exposure to infection is unequal. People in precarious, low paid, manual jobs …

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