Lower-paid male workers most at risk of Covid-19 fatality, ONS data shows

12 May 2020 By Siobhan Palmer

Highest death rates found among security guards, care workers and taxi drivers, with experts calling for this to be factored in to how the furlough scheme is wound down

Men in lower-paid jobs are most at risk of dying from Covid-19, provisional data from the Office for National Statistics has suggested. 

The data, which shows the number and rate of deaths involving Covid-19 broken down by occupation, found that men in ‘low-skilled, elementary occupations’ were more than twice as likely as those in directorial or managerial positions to have died from contracting coronavirus.

Among 'low-skilled professions', the rate was 21.4 per 100,000 men, compared to 8.4 per 100,000 male managers and directors. 

The data covered deaths registered in England and Wales between 9 March and 20 April for people aged 20 to 64. According to the data, only 12 HR professionals had died from contracting Covid-19 in this period. 

Men overall were almost twice as likely to have died from the virus as women, with an overall rate of 9.9 deaths involving coronavirus per 100,000 men, compared to 5.4 for women. Overall, the figures showed 1,612 men of working age had died in relation to Covid-19 in the specified time period, and 882 women. 

Among women, those working in care, leisure and service occupations were most at risk of death involving Covid-19, with 130 deaths – a rate of 7.5 per 100,000 women. These sectors saw the second highest death rate among men, at 17.9 per 100,000 men. The overall figure for male coronavirus-related deaths in this sector was lower than for women, however, at 72. 

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Tony Wilson, director of the Institute for Employment Studies, said the figures demonstrated the unequal risks facing those working through the crisis, which needed to be reflected in guidance on safe working and in employer risk assessments.  

“In occupations at highest risk, there will likely need to be access to protective equipment, testing and tracing – as there is currently for those working in health and care,” he said. He added that it was also vital employees with underlying health conditions did not have to choose between staying safe and being paid. 

Wilson called for this to be taken into account by the government in considering how to wind down its furlough scheme. Chancellor Rishi Sunak is set to reveal the future of the scheme later today (12 May), amid growing calls for it to be extended until at least September.

“Statutory sick pay, at £95 a week, will not be enough – so any replacement for the job retention scheme needs to ensure that those with underlying conditions or symptoms, and who cannot work from home, can access an adequate replacement income,” he said.

A more detailed breakdown of occupations showed men working as security guards and in related jobs faced potentially the highest risk of fatality connected to Covid-19, with a rate of 45.7 per 100,000. This was followed by taxi and cab drivers, where a total of 76 men were reported to have died in association with the virus – a rate of more than 36 deaths per 100,000 workers. 

Among women, the riskiest occupations were revealed to be care home worker and home carer, 66 of whom had died from contracting Covid-19. This reflected a death rate of 12.7 per 100,000 female workers in this occupation. 

Both men and women working in social care were more than twice as likely to die with the virus as the general population, with 23.4 deaths per 100,000 males and 9.6 per 100,000 women.

Helen Barnard, acting director at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, agreed the findings should be of concern as the government considers how to end its job retention scheme. “[The] figures are another stark reminder that, although we are all weathering the same storm, we are not all in the same boat,” she said. “No one should have to go out to earn in order to stay afloat if it puts their health at risk”.  

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