These maps show how ridiculously unequal Britain’s economy is

Islands in the stream: blue is richer, red is poorer. Image: CER/Google.

Britain is a rich country: this relaxed assumption about our place in the economic pecking order has helped fuel everything from Brexit to the complacency that led to Brexit.

Thing is, though, Britain is also, by European standards at least, both a big country and an unequal one. So while it contains some of the richest regions on the entire continent, it also contains some of the poorest in western Europe.

A new paper from the Centre for European Reform has quantified all this, which is exciting for us mainly because it includes an interactive map. Look:

The map, the authors write,

…illustrates Europe’s economic fault-lines. It shows regional productivity, measured by economic output per worker: the deeper the blue, the higher the region’s productivity as a percentage of the EU average, while the deeper the red, the lower.

It shows that many regions in richer countries are far less productive than the EU average, and some places in poorer countries are more productive than that average.

This is true – but it also highlights inequality in its different forms. Some countries are uncomplicatedly rich (Ireland, the Scandinavians) or poor (most of eastern Europe). But others are much more mixed. In Spain and Italy definitely have rich norths and poorer souths. With France and, especially, Germany, it’s hard even to spot a pattern. Although you’d expect the east of the latter to be poorer than the west, it’s surprisingly hard to see that on this map – an artefact, perhaps, of the fact those countries have been divided here into relatively small units.

And then there’s the UK, which is all over the shop.

For one thing, there’s Northern Ireland, where Belfast has an output per worker of 163 per cent of the European average, on a par with Denmark or the Republic of Ireland; but where the rest of the province is way below the European average.

The south east of England has some rich areas, which you’d expect. It also has some pretty poor, which you probably wouldn’t. On this measure, Central Hampshire has productivity at 115 per cent of the EU average, roughly on a par with Germany. South Hampshire, right next door, has productivity at just 88 per cent of the EU average – which is on a par with Greece.

It’s a similar story in the north, only this time instead of red bits on a blue background it’s rich blue bits surrounded by red. Liverpool has productivity of 114 per cent of the EU average (Germany again); across the Mersey on the Wirral it’s just 69 per cent (Solvenia). To the west, southern Manchester is pretty rich; northern Manchester eye-wateringly poor. Leeds is an island of prosperity surrounded by a struggling sea.

We probably shouldn’t over interpret this: at least part of the p attern is explained by the relatively small size of the units being analysed. London, for example, is split into well over a dozen of the things, with the top ranked (Westminster; 930 per cent of the EU average) being 13 times more productive than the bottom ranked (Redbridge & Waltham Forest; 72 per cent).

This presumably reflects that the former has a load of hedge funds and film companies working within its boundaries, while the latter is largely coffee shops and markets; but since some of the people who live in the latter work in well paid jobs in the former, it’s not an accurate reflection of how life in the two areas actually feels.

That said, productivity in Britain does seem to be both less equal and less evenly distributed than that in most European countries. Some areas really do look, economically, more like Greece than Germany. It’s hard to see this as a good thing.


Anyway, you can play with the full, interactive map here.

Jonn Elledge is editor of CityMetric and the assistant editor of the New Statesman. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

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Segregated playgrounds are just the start: inequality is built into the fabric of our cities

Yet more luxury flats. Image: Getty.

Developers in London have come under scrutiny for segregating people who live in social or affordable housing from residents who pay market rates. Prominent cases have included children from social housing being blocked from using a playground in a new development, and “poor doors” providing separate entrances for social housing residents.

Of course, segregation has long been a reality in cities around the world. For example, gated communities have been documented in the US cities since the 1970s, while racially segregated urban areas existed in South Africa under apartheid. Research by myself and other academics has shown that urban spaces which divide and exclude society’s poorer or more vulnerable citizens are still expanding rapidly, even replacing public provision of facilities and services – such as parks and playgrounds – in cities around the world.

Gated developments in Gurgaon, India, have created a patchwork of privatised services; elite developments in Hanoi, Vietnam, offer rich residents cleaner air; and luxury condos in Toronto, Canada, displace local residents in favour of foreign investors. An extreme example is the Eko Atlantic project in Nigeria – a private city being built in Lagos, where the majority of other residents face extreme levels of deprivation and poverty.

A commodity, or a right?

Although these developments come with their own unique context and characteristics, they all have one thing in common: they effectively segregate city dwellers. By providing the sorts of facilities and services which would normally be run by public authorities, but reserving them exclusively for certain residents, such developments threaten the wider public’s access to green spaces, decent housing, playgrounds and even safe sewage systems.

Access to basic services, which was once considered to be the right of all citizens, is at risk of becoming a commodity. Privatisation may start with minor services such as the landscaping or upkeep of neighbourhoods: for example, the maintenance of some new-build estates in the UK are being left to developers in return for a service charge. This might seem insignificant, but it introduces an unregulated cost for the residents.

Privatising the provision of municipal services may be seen by some as a way for wealthier residents to enjoy a better standard of living – as in Hanoi. But in the worst cases, it puts in a paywall in front of fundamental services such as sewage disposal – as happened in Gurgaon. In other words, privatisation may start with insignificant services and expand to more fundamental ones, creating greater segregation and inequality in cities.


A divided city

My own research on branded housing projects in Turkey has highlighted the drastic consequences of the gradual expansion of exclusive services and facilities through segregated developments. These private housing developments – known for their extensive use of branding – have sprung up in Istanbul and other Turkish cities over the past two decades, since the government began to favour a more neoliberal approach.

By 2014, there were more than 800 branded housing projects in Istanbul alone. They vary in scale from a single high-rise building to developments aiming to accommodate more than 20,000 residents. Today, this development type can be seen in every city in Turkey, from small towns to the largest metropolitan areas.

The branded housing projects are segregated by design, often featuring a single tower or an enclosing cluster of buildings, as well as walls and fences. They provide an extensive array of services and facilities exclusively for their residents, including parks, playgrounds, sports pitches, health clinics and landscaping.

Making the same services and facilities available within each project effectively prevents interaction between residents and people living outside of their development. What’s more, these projects often exist in neighbourhoods which lack publicly accessible open spaces such as parks and playgrounds.

This is a city-wide problem in Istanbul since the amount of publicly accessible green spaces in Istanbul is as low as 2.2 per cent of the total urban area. In London, 33 per cent of the city’s area is made up of parks and gardens open to the public – which shows the severity of the problem in Istanbul.

These branded housing projects do not feature any affordable units or social housing, so there are no opportunities for less privileged city-dwellers to enjoy vital facilities such as green spaces. This has knock-on effects on excluded residents’ mental and physical health, contributing to greater inequality in these respects, too.

Emerging alternatives

To prevent increasing inequality, exclusion and segregation in cities, fundamental urban services must be maintained or improved and kept in public ownership and made accessible for every city-dweller. There are emerging alternatives that show ways to do this and challenge privatisation policies.

For example, in some cities, local governments have “remunicipalised” key services, bringing them back into public ownership. A report by Dutch think-tank the Transnational Institute identified 235 cases where water supplies were remunicipalised across 37 countries between 2000 and 2015. The water remunicipalisation tracker keeps track of successful examples of remunicipalisation cases around the world, as well as ongoing campaigns.

It is vitally important to keep urban services public and reverse subtle forms or privatisation by focusing on delivering a decent standard of living for all residents. Local authorities need to be committed to this goal – but they must also receive adequate funds from local taxes and central governments. Only then, will quality services be available to all people living in cities.

The Conversation

Bilge Serin, Research Associate, University of Glasgow.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.