There could be a “significant number” of indirect deaths due to coronavirus if there is a long, drawn-out economic recovery from the pandemic, the UK’s chief statistician has warned.
Sir Ian Diamond said the effects of the crisis could be far-reaching as people are “pushed into poverty” if – as some economists fear – the economy takes five years to return to pre-crisis levels.
Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, has already said the UK faces a “significant” recession.
Now Sir Ian has said an “L-shaped” recovery – in which the economy takes several years to return to pre-crisis levels – would lead to an equally significant increase in mortality.
While most attention has been paid to the direct death toll caused by Covid-19, Sir Ian told the House of Commons public administration committee that the “really important statistic” was excess deaths, which now stand at over 47,000, according to figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
Sir Ian said official data crunchers would be producing research looking at four different categories of death, including the impact of an economic downturn.
These include direct fatalities, indirect deaths caused by the NHS prioritising resources, and longer term deaths related to fewer people being screened for diseases such as cancer.
Sir Ian said: “If – and I stress, if – we end up with an ‘L-shaped’ recession as opposed to a ‘V-shape’ where we come back out quite quickly, an ‘L-shape’ over a long period of time could lead to a significant number of deaths as a result of people being pushed into poverty or into long-term unemployment.
“We know that people in the lowest deciles of income have higher mortality rates in this country, and if you increase that you are likely to see an increase in deaths.”