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.

Click to expand.

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.

Click to expand.

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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London’s rail and tube map is out of control

Aaaaaargh. Image: Getty.

The geographical limits of London’s official rail maps have always been slightly arbitrary. Far-flung commuter towns like Amersham, Chesham and Epping are all on there, because they have tube stations. Meanwhile, places like Esher or Walton-on-Thames – much closer to the city proper, inside the M25, and a contiguous part of the built up area – aren’t, because they fall outside the Greater London and aren’t served by Transport for London (TfL) services. This is pretty aggravating, but we are where we are.

But then a few years ago, TfL decided to show more non-London services on its combined Tube & Rail Map. It started with a few stations slightly outside the city limits, but where you could you use your Oyster card. Then said card started being accepted at Gatwick Airport station – and so, since how to get to a major airport is a fairly useful piece of information to impart to passengers, TfL’s cartographers added that line too, even though it meant including stations bloody miles away.

And now the latest version seems to have cast all logic to the wind. Look at this:

Oh, no. Click to expand. Image: TfL.

The logic for including the line to Reading is that it’s now served by TfL Rail, a route which will be part of the Elizabeth Line/Crossrail, when they eventually, finally happen. But you can tell something’s gone wrong here from the fact that showing the route, to a town which is well known for being directly west of London, requires an awkward right-angle which makes it look like the line turns north, presumably because otherwise there’d be no way of showing it on the map.

What’s more, this means that a station 36 miles from central London gets to be on the map, while Esher – barely a third of that distance out – doesn’t. Nor does Windsor & Eton Central, because it’s served by a branchline from Slough rather than TfL Rail trains, even though as a fairly major tourist destination it’d probably be the sort of place that at least some users of this map might want to know how to get to.

There’s more. Luton Airport Parkway is now on the map, presumably on the basis that Gatwick is. But that station doesn’t accept Oyster cards yet, so you get this:

Gah. Click to expand. Image: TfL.

There’s a line, incidentally, between Watford Junction and St Albans Abbey, which is just down the road from St Albans City. Is that line shown on the map? No it is not.

Also not shown on the map: either Luton itself, just one stop up the line from Luton Airport Parkway, or Stansted Airport, even though it’s an airport and not much further out than places which are on the map. Somewhere that is, however, is Welwyn Garden City, which doesn’t accept Oyster, isn’t served by TfL trains and also – this feels important – isn’t an airport.

And meanwhile a large chunk of Surrey suburbia inside the M25 isn’t shown, even though it must have a greater claim to be a part of London’s rail network than bloody Reading.

The result of all these decisions is that the map covers an entirely baffling area whose shape makes no sense whatsoever. Here’s an extremely rough map:

Just, what? Image: Google Maps/CityMetric.

I mean that’s just ridiculous isn’t it.

While we’re at it: the latest version shows the piers from which you can get boats on the Thames. Except for when it doesn’t because they’re not near a station – for example, Greenland Pier, just across the Thames to the west of the Isle of Dogs, shown here with CityMetric’s usual artistic flair.

Spot the missing pier. You can’t, because it’s missing. Image: TfL/CityMetric.

I’m sure there must be a logic to all of this. It’s just that I fear the logic is “what makes life easier for the TfL cartography team” rather than “what is actually valuable information for London’s rail passengers”.

And don’t even get me started on this monstrosity.

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