I ranked every UK constituency by deprivation and then coloured them by party affiliation – for fun!

Here we go again. Image: Getty.

What would it look like if we made a map of UK politics that wasn’t a map at all? What if we mapped out all 650 UK constituencies based on their level of deprivation, ranked them in ten equal groups of 65 and then coloured them by the party who won in each area in 2017?

Well, we’d have something that looks quite like a patchwork quilt of UK politics, as you can see below. The most deprived constituencies are in the left hand column, the least deprived are in the right hand column. In each column, constituencies towards the top are more deprived than the ones at the bottom.

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I originally attempted this in 2017 and with a new election looming and UK politics very much in a state of flux, I thought it would be interesting to do it again. Constituencies are coloured by who won in 2017, not the medley of party affiliations we ended up with at the end of the current parliamentary session.

My first attempt – England only

My first attempt at this last week was based on new deprivation data for England only, aggregated to constituencies by the excellent data team at the House of Commons Library. The results are shown below. In the left hand column we can see that the most deprived areas of England are almost all Labour seats, with the exception of Walsall North, Clacton, and Blackpool North & Cleveleys.

At the opposite end of the spectrum it’s almost a Conservative mirror image, with the exception of Twickenham & Oxford West and Abingdon (both Liberal Democrat) and Sheffield Hallam (Labour). Buckingham was originally won as a safe Conservative seat by John Bercow in 1997.

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How can we unite the nation? Do the whole UK!

Yet I just wasn’t satisfied with this result, because the General Election is a UK event and this chart only shows England. Unfortunately, as many data boffins will know, getting your hands on a UK-wide dataset for just about anything is never a straightforward task. UK-wide analysis normally involves doing the same analysis four times, which is even less fun than it sounds.

However, thanks to Will Ball at Edinburgh Napier University I learned that there was a UK-wide deprivation dataset I could use, put together by Gary Abel at the University of Exeter, along with Matthew Barclay from Cambridge and Rupert Payne from Bristol. They found that Northern Ireland was relatively more deprived than the rest of the UK, as was Wales, and that Scotland had higher mortality rates than the rest of the UK.


This dataset is not as up to date as the new 2019 Indices of Deprivation for England, but even so it gives us a fascinating insight into relative socio-economic conditions in small areas across the entire UK.

So far, so good. All I had to do now was take the 42,000-odd small areas they calculated the data for, fit them into 650 constituencies, weight them by population and turn them into a colourful graphic. I won’t bore you with the technical details of my analysis, but the ranking of constituencies you see in the full UK graphic provides quite a good representation of where each constituency sits relative to all others with respect to area-based deprivation (which includes things like income, employment, health, education and crime). The fact that Northern Irish constituencies feature prominently as being among the most deprived mirrors the findings for small areas by Abel and colleagues.

Yes, there is variation within each area, but no matter how we were to draw up a UK shortlist of areas with the most deprived neighbourhoods in them, it’s not much of a stretch to think that Belfast, Liverpool, Birmingham, Nottingham, Manchester, South Wales, London and Glasgow would feature prominently. Using the most recent deprivation data for England, for example, we can see that 79 per cent of neighbourhoods in Birmingham Hodge Hill are among the 10 per cent most deprived in England, as are 73 per cent in Liverpool Walton.

Likewise, at the opposite end of the scale, the fact that Chesham and Amersham, Winchester, Henley and Witney appear among the least deprived in the UK is no shock. None of these areas contain areas among England’s most deprived 10 per cent. The colour of these constituencies is also not surprising, with a couple of notable exceptions – and most of which are fairly marginal constituencies.

What have we learned?

But what does any of this tell us? Well, to answer that it might be easier to separate out the individual parties, as I have done for the four largest ones below. The most deprived constituencies are Labour strongholds, and the least deprived are mostly safe Conservative seats. Interestingly, the SNP holds seats across the socio-economic spectrum, whereas the Liberal Democrats in 2017 won seats that were mostly somewhere in the middle or among the very least deprived in the UK.

 

 

Big surprise, right? Well, of course this is not surprising for anyone with even a passing interest in UK politics, but it does lay out something of the scale of the electoral challenge for different parties, particularly with the Conservatives targeting several deprived northern English seats and the Labour party needing to make significant gains across the country, including in some of the less deprived constituencies. Of course, if we overlay the issue of Brexit on top of this patchwork quilt, things become more complex still:

So voting Labour makes you poor and voting Tory makes you rich?

I did this out of curiosity and although I wasn’t massively surprised by the results, I didn’t expect the sorting by party to be quite so neat for both Labour and the Conservatives.

What I did expect was that people would see in it what they want to see, whether it’s claiming that voting for one party makes areas rich or poor. This is the kind of causal leap that I would definitely caution against, but of course people will draw their own conclusions. And yes, that is the sound of a thousand statisticians shouting “correlation does not imply causation”.


A thousand more will remind you of the ecological fallacy, which is the mistake of thinking individuals have the same characteristics as a group they belong to. Many do, but some won’t. On that front, I should say that I live in one of England’s most deprived constituencies (Sheffield Brightside & Hillsborough) yet would never claim to fit this profile on an individual basis, even if most neighbourhoods here do.

What we can say with some confidence is that in the UK constituencies with the highest proportions of deprived areas are mostly held by Labour and that the least deprived are held by the Conservatives. We can also say that in 2017 the Liberal Democrats mostly won seats in more affluent areas and that the SNP was successful in constituencies across the board.

Again, this is hardly new knowledge, but seeing how it maps out across the UK in a single graphic does I think bring it all together in a way that helps summarise the kaleidoscope of UK politics simply and quickly. The fact that it has struck a chord with many people, including those with a predilection for wonkery, is perhaps a timely reminder of the potency of political graphics. It might also serve as a useful electoral strategy board, depending upon which party you root for.

Beyond this little graphical experiment, and as part of my day-to-day academic attempts to understand these issues in more depth, I’m currently working on a project to create an English Atlas of Inequality, funded by the independent Nuffield Foundation. Part of this project involves understanding deprivation within constituencies, with much more nuance, and we aim to publish by the end of November. This will help us begin to pick apart the patchwork quilt we see here and, we hope, enable a deeper understanding of the questions it raises.

Alasdair Rae is a professor in the urban studies & planning department of the University of Sheffield. 

Thanks to Carl Baker for the EU graphic.

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What it's been like living in one of the few places that never locked down

People enjoy sunny weather in Tantolunden park in Stockholm on May 30, 2020, amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. (Henrik Montgomery/TT News Agency/AFP via Getty Images)

While most of the Western world was confined to their homes for the better part of two months this spring, my friends and I in Stockholm continued hanging out. In stark contrast to most other places, we went to restaurants (occasionally, outside when possible), to one another’s houses (in our yards when possible), and even sent our kids to school. As the rest of the world opens up again, not much will change in Stockholm.

As an American expat living in the Swedish capital, I was initially angry at Sweden’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic. In my home country, early outbreaks in locations such as Seattle, New York City and the San Francisco Bay Area led to strict rules that were soon mirrored in many other states and cities. The Swedish strategy, meanwhile, boiled down mostly to recommendations: If possible, work from home; avoid unnecessary travel within the country; engage in social distancing; and if you’re above 70, stay home. I felt that, in the face of a global pandemic, a country known for its generous welfare policies – that took such good care of its citizens – wasn’t doing its part to protect us.

My friends and I are mostly expats with young families who, early on, pulled our children out of school against official policy. (Schools here only closed for those 16 and over.) We eagerly waited to hear what further action our current country would take. Surely a country known for its progressive social policies would take fast, decisive action to protect its citizens?

The regulations that were put into place in Sweden amounted to restricting public gatherings to no more than 50 people (reduced from 500, which concert halls skirted by restricting entry to 499), limiting restaurants to table service only, and no visiting retirement homes. People here did take the work-from-home guidelines to heart – no one I knew was going in to work. But bars and restaurants were full. My Instagram feed was a highlight reel of acquaintances clinking champagne flutes at the city’s major clubs and restaurants.

After the first few weeks, I slowly started meeting up with friends again. I sent my kids back to school, where they intentionally spent most of the day outdoors and drop-offs were restricted to outside only (parents weren’t allowed to enter the building). I was careful to take precautions like bringing hand sanitizer to playgrounds and wiping my hands after opening and closing the gate to school. Hardly anyone wore masks to the grocery shop or inside stores – the few times I’ve seen people wearing them I’ve done a double take. One busy Friday night in late April at the local supermarket there was a line out the door and someone regulating the number of customers allowed inside at the same time. I took a photo and sent it to my family in the US saying “Sweden finally catching up with the rest of the world!” (I haven’t seen entry to that store being regulated since.)

When I spoke to Swedish friends about the strategy many agreed with the relaxed approach, mentioning that other countries’ draconian measures would be unnecessary in Sweden. A recent poll showed that just 11% of people in Sweden felt they did not trust state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell, who is leading the strategy. In this country, the onus was placed on citizens themselves to follow recommendations. It's about personal judgement and individual responsibility within a framework that rested on mutual trust, rather than top-down control. Swedes’ high level of interpersonal trust and trust in authority was often cited in the press as the characteristic enabling the relaxed Swedish strategy in tackling the virus, as opposed to social distancing becoming a matter of surveillance and policing like in Spain or Italy, where any nonessential socializing was forbidden.

In early May, Sweden's ambassador to the US Karin Ulrika Olofsdotter said in an interview with the Washington Post that some media outlets made it look “like everyone in Sweden is out drinking and partying,” she said. “That is not the case.” But that was certainly how it felt to me. According to research by Esteban Ortiz-Ospina and Max Roser in 2016, in countries such as Norway, Sweden and Finland, more than 60% of respondents in the World Value Survey think that people can be trusted. And in the other extreme, in countries such as Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador and Peru, less than 10% think that this is the case.


Of course, many places in the US also took a similarly relaxed approach to tackling the pandemic, with conservative lawmakers and anti-lockdown activists citing Sweden as taking the right approach. Sweden, rarely finding cheerleaders among conservative US circles, suddenly stood as an example to follow. But since then, places such as Arizona, Texas and Florida have all seen significant spikes in cases following reopenings and are being deemed the new epicentres of the virus – while Sweden’s numbers have stabilised. According to some reports, the death toll in Sweden is one of the highest in the world per capita, but the total number of Swedish deaths remains at just above 5,000, compared to over 120,000 in the US, over 43,000 in the UK, over 28,000 in Spain and over 34,000 in Italy. The mortality rate in Sweden and the number of new intensive care cases in the country declined in the last week and contagion rates here are now “stable” according to the WHO.

Although it didn’t always feel like it at the time, Sweden issued clear guidance from the beginning, with the expectation that people would choose to follow it. It certainly was my experience that everyone I knew stopped going into the office and started working from home. William Hanage, an associate professor of epidemiology at Harvard’s School of Public Health, attributed Sweden’s slowing of the virus to implementing guidance early on. “Sweden’s policy is unusual in that it took a much less stringent approach to preventing transmission," he says, "but interestingly it implemented those measures at a very early stage in the pandemic, before large amounts of community spread had occurred.”

Now I go outside and all too often realise I’ve left my hand sanitiser at home. I even met a friend for lunch outdoors at a busy cafe one particularly sunny day, and another indoors one Friday night for dinner. In May I had a birthday bash in my garden with a dozen or so friends and we ended up at the local bar. I always felt guilty after, as if I’d done something wrong that I couldn’t tell my family in Baltimore about. When I watched international news or spoke to family back home I would feel a certain cognitive dissonance between my own seemingly low-risk reality and what I knew to be happening in the rest of the world. My family in the US calls me skeptically questioning why I’ve had people over in my garden, or been out to eat. I can’t explain the lack of logic that permits an entire city’s citizens to operate life as normal in the midst of a global pandemic. But Stockholm has become a bubble of exactly this.

Being relatively young and healthy, I’m not so worried about getting sick. Even though young and healthy people have gotten seriously ill, there haven’t been any reported cases at my kids’ or any of my friends’ kids’ schools. Nobody I know in Stockholm knows has gotten sick, allowing me to feel a certain distance from it. But my husband’s parents are in their mid-70s and weren’t able to see their grandchildren for two months save for a few visits to their hallway, where we wave and blow kisses to them standing at the door.

I’ve been grateful – but also felt a sense of guilt for – my freedom here. When there are no hard and fast rules about how to act, it’s easy to constantly question yourself: Is it really okay to be outside, sitting at this full cafe? Is it okay to invite a few friends over for a birthday? Is it okay to send my kids to school? These questions have surely gone through minds around the world in the past several weeks, and now it’s clear that that behaviour had dire consequences in some cities and not others.

While Swedish social media at times suggests an endless friend-filled party at summer homes and popular hangouts, the reality here is a balancing act between personal judgement and the freedom to continue life as normal. Self-regulation is what it comes down to in Sweden, anyway.

Elysha Krupp is a writer and editor currently living in Stockholm.