There were over 600,000 death registrations in 2020

This is higher than every year in England and Wales since 1918.

An erroneous image on social media claims there were 561,529 death registrations in 2020. This image uses the Office for National Statistics logo.

Citing this image: Piers Corbyn, a London mayoral candidate, asserted:


This number for 2020 is false: there were 608,002 death registrations in England and Wales.

A false image

The table, spread on social media, shows:

(Image: Twitter/Piers Corbyn)

There are three years where the stated figure is incorrect:

  • 1998: the number of death registrations in England and Wales was 553,435. That is about 12,000 higher than what the Twitter table shows.
  • 2010: there is a typographical error here: it should be 493,242.
  • 2020: the provisional number is around 46,000 deaths higher than the stated figure.

This is a major error. In particular, the 2020 figure is not from the ONS. Corbyn claims:

Total deaths were higher 1990, 91, 95, 96 yet we didn’t trash the economy, jobs & freedom.

This is false. Death registrations in England and Wales were last higher in 1918 — year of a global flu pandemic.

2020 had the highest number of death registrations in England and Wales since 1918. (Image: R Pubs)

As public health and treatments improve, the mortality rate decreases. Since 1900, the crude mortality rate has declined in most years. After around 2011, this decline in England and Wales has slowed.

The crude mortality rate is the number of death registrations for every 100,000 people. (We can also use rates per 1,000 people, or other ways of expression.) These numbers use the death of registration, rather than date of death.

From 1930 to 1980, population estimates use rounded figures for people in single years of age. That means there is a slight erosion in accuracy before 1981.

This crude calculation does not account for changes in how old the population is. There is an annual series of age-standardised mortality rates since 1942. The calculation starts with mortality rates in each age group. Statisticians then standardised those rates to the 2013 European standard population.

The mortality increase from the five-year average (in 2015–2019) to 2020 is:

  • For crude mortality: the largest since 1941.
  • For age-standardised mortality: the largest since 1951.
Compared to 2020, age-standardised mortality rates were last higher in 2008. (Image: R Pubs)

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a large increase in deaths in 2020.

The full R code is available on R Pubs and GitHub. The first graph uses Thomas Lin Pederson’s patchwork package, to ‘join’ the two sub-graphs.

Edit: I added a reference to the slowing decline in mortality rates. I also changed the second graph to compare against a rolling five-year average.

This blog looks at the use of statistics in Britain and beyond. It is written by RSS Statistical Ambassador and Chartered Statistician @anthonybmasters.

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