This is a fast-moving issue and should be read as correct at the date of publication (02.06.20).

The coronavirus pandemic has different impacts on different groups of workers. For workers defined by the Government as ‘key workers’ the health risk is heightened.  

This Insight outlines which workers have experienced the biggest health risk, and breaks these groups down by ethnicity, gender, country of birth, disability status, household type, and rates of pay. 

Who is more likely to be a key worker?

Key workers are more likely than average to be from a BAME background, be women, be born outside the UK, and be paid less than the average UK income. 

According to the Office for National Statistics’ interpretation of Government guidance, in 2019, a third of the workforce were in key worker occupations and industries.  

Of key workers: 

  • 14% are from BAME (Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic) backgrounds (4% are Black, 7% Asian, 1% Mixed, and 2% ‘Other’), compared to a workforce average of 12%. 
  • 58% are women, compared to a workforce average of 48%. 
  • 15% are disabled (as defined by the Equality Act 2010), compared to a workforce average of 14%. 
  • 18% are born outside of the UK, compared to a workforce average of 11%. 

The chart below shows the composition of key workers. 

A chart shows the composition of key workers
Source: ONS, Key workers, reference tables, tables 6a, 4a, 10a, 5a, May 2020

Key workers by household type 

45% of households with dependent children include at least one key worker. 

In households with dependent children and at least one adult key worker: 19% of households have both parents as key workers, and in 14% of households the key worker is a lone parent.  

A chart to show households with dependent children where one adult is a key worker
Source: ONS, Key workers reference tables, Table 8, May 2020

Key workers have lower rates of pay 

According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, 33% of key workers earn £10 or less an hour, compared with 28% of workers in non-key sectors. 

The median key worker earned £12.26 per hour in 2019, 8% less than the £13.26 per hour earned by the median earner not in a key worker occupation. 

Workers in occupations with a high number of Covid-19 deaths  

Workers in occupations with the highest number of Covid-19 deaths – such as care workers, taxi and cab drivers, security guards, and sales and retail assistants – are also more likely to come from a BAME background, be women, and have lower than average rates of pay. 

According to the ONS, within the 19 individual occupations with the highest number of Covid-19 related deaths, 1,088 workers aged 20-64 died in England and Wales between 9 March and 20 April 2020.  

Our analysis of the Labour Force Survey shows that of the workers in the occupations: 

  • 13% are from BAME backgrounds, compared to a workforce average of 12%. 
  • 55% are women, compared to a 48% workforce average.  
  • 15% are disabled (as defined by the Equality Act 2010), compared to a 14% workforce average. 
A graph shows ethnicity, gender and disability status in occupations with the highest number of Covid-19 deaths
Source: Labour Force Survey, Q1 2020

Occupations with high levels of Covid-19 deaths have lower rates of pay

10% of workers in these occupations earn £10 or less an hour, compared to an 8% workforce average.  

Occupations with the highest number of Covid-19 deaths varies by gender 

In the period 9 March-20 April 2020 there were 2,494 deaths registered in England and Wales which involved Covid-19: 1,612 men and 882 women. The most common occupations among these people were different for men and women. 

Among women, care workers and home carers are most at risk, with 66 deaths between 9 March and 20 April, followed by nurses and nursing auxiliaries and assistants, with 31 deaths. 

Among men, taxi and cab drivers and chauffeurs are most at risk with 76 deaths in this period, followed by security guards and related occupations (63 deaths), and care workers and home carers (32 deaths).  

A graph shows occupations with the most death of men involving Covid-19
Source: ONS, Coronavirus (Covid-19) related deaths by occupation, England and Wales, 11 May 2020

Workers who are economically impacted 

Workers in sectors which were shut down by the coronavirus pandemic are also more likely than average to be women and from a BAME background, as well as under 35-years-old and working part-time. We have looked at this in more detail in Coronavirus: Which workers are economically impacted? 

Further reading 

Coronavirus: Impact on the labour market, House of Commons Library  

Coronavirus: Which workers are economically impacted?, House of Commons Library

Coronavirus and key workers in the UK, ONS 

Differences between key workers, Institute for Fiscal Studies  

What happens after the clapping finishes?, Resolution Foundation 

About the author: Brigid Francis-Devine is a researcher at the House of Commons Library and specialises in labour markets, poverty and inequality. 

PhotoNurse carrying out a bed changeover / Adrian Wressell, Heart of England NHS FT / CC BY 4.0