More deaths in England and Wales in 2020 ‘than any year since 1918’

More deaths were registered in England and Wales in 2020 than in any year since 1918, new figures suggest.

Some 608,002 deaths were registered between January 1 and December 31, according to provisional data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

This is higher than in any calendar year since 1918, the year of the “Spanish flu”, when 611,861 deaths were registered.

However, changes in the age and size of the population mean this is not a like-for-like comparison.

HEALTH Coronavirus ONS
HEALTH Coronavirus ONS

The population in England and Wales in 1918 stood at 34 million, compared with around 60 million today.

This means that proportionately more people died in 1918 than in 2020.

Sarah Caul, ONS head of mortality analysis, said: “Comparing today’s numbers to the 20th century and late 19th century doesn’t help understand the current mortality patterns.

“For the best comparisons, we really need to look at age-standardised mortality rates.

“The population has changed and grown over time, so in many respects you’d expect the number of deaths to have increased.

“Age-standardised mortality rates (ASMRs) take into consideration both the population size and age structure, allowing us to compare over time. You would expect more deaths in a population with more old people, and ASMRs even out the population differences so that you compare like with like.”

Figures for age-standardised mortality rates in England and Wales only go back to 1981, when the number stood at 1,666.5 deaths per 100,000 population.

The equivalent rate for England and Wales in 2020 is estimated to be 1,043.5 deaths per 100,000 population, according to provisional ONS data.

This would be the highest mortality rate since 2008.

The provisional number of deaths registered in England and Wales in the week ending 1 January 2021 (Week 53) was 10,069.

This was 1,451 less than Week 52

— Office for National Statistics (ONS) (@ONS) January 12, 2021

The ONS also compared the total number of deaths registered in 2020 with the long-term average, to see how many extra deaths – or “excess deaths” – had occurred.

The overall number of deaths registered in England and Wales in 2020 was provisionally 75,925 higher than the average for 2015 to 2019.

It was also 77,161 higher than the number registered in 2019 – the biggest year-on-year increase since 1940.

Compared with 10 and 20 years ago, the number of deaths was higher in 2020 by 123,636 and 75,504 respectively, the ONS added.