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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Coming soon: CityMetric will relaunch as City Monitor, a new publication dedicated to the future of cities

Coming soon!

Later this month, CityMetric will be relaunching with an entirely new look and identity, as well as an expanded editorial mission. We’ll become City Monitor, a name that reflects both a ramping up of our ambitions as well as our membership in a network of like-minded publications coming soon from New Statesman Media Group. We can’t wait to share the new website with you, but in the meantime, here’s what CityMetric readers should know about what to expect from this exciting transition.  

Regular CityMetric readers may have already noticed a few changes around here since the spring. CityMetric’s beloved founding editor, Jonn Elledge, has moved on to some new adventures, and a new team has formed to take the site into the future. It’s led by yours truly – I’m Sommer Mathis, the editor-in-chief of City Monitor. Hello!

My background includes having served as the founding editor of CityLab, editor-in-chief of Atlas Obscura, and editor-in-chief of DCist, a local news publication in the District of Columbia. I’ve been reporting on and writing about cities in one way or another for the past 15 years. To me, there is no more important story in the world right now than how cities are changing and adapting to an increasingly challenging global landscape. The majority of the world’s population lives in cities, and if we’re ever going to be able to tackle the most pressing issues currently facing our planet – the climate emergency, rising inequality, the Covid-19 pandemic ­­­– cities are going to have to lead the way.

That’s why City Monitor is going to be a global publication dedicated to the future of cities everywhere – not just in the UK (nor for that matter just in the US, where I live). Our mission will be to help our readers, many of whom are in leadership positions around the globe, navigate how cities are changing and discover what’s next in the world of urban policy. We’ll do that through original reporting, expert opinion and most crucially, a data-driven approach that emphasises evidence and rigorous analysis. We want to arm local decision-makers and those they work in concert with – whether that’s elected officials, bureaucratic leaders, policy advocates, neighbourhood activists, academics and researchers, entrepreneurs, or plain-old engaged citizens – with real insights and potential answers to tough problems. Subjects we’ll cover include transportation, infrastructure, housing, urban design, public safety, the environment, the economy, and much more.

The City Monitor team is made up of some of the most experienced urban policy journalists in the world. Our managing editor is Adam Sneed, also a CityLab alum where he served as a senior associate editor. Before that he was a technology reporter at Politico. Allison Arieff is City Monitor’s senior editor. She was previously editorial director of the urban planning and policy think tank SPUR, as well as a contributing columnist for The New York Times. Staff writer Jake Blumgart most recently covered development, housing, and politics for WHYY, the local public radio station in Philadelphia. And our data reporter is Alexandra Kanik, whose previous roles include data reporting for Louisville Public Media in Kentucky and PublicSource in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Our team will continue to grow in the coming weeks, and we’ll also be collaborating closely with our editorial colleagues across New Statesman Media Group. In fact, we’re launching a whole network of new publications this fall, covering topics such as the clean energy transition, foreign direct investment, technology, banks and more. Many of these sectors will frequently overlap with our cities coverage, and a key part of our plan is make the most of the expertise that all of these newsrooms combined will bring to bear on our journalism.

City Monitor will go live later this month. In the meantime, please visit citymonitor.ai to sign up for our forthcoming email newsletter.


As for CityMetric, some of its archives have already been moved over to the new website, and the rest will follow not long after. If you’re looking for a favourite piece from CityMetric’s past, for a time you’ll still be able to find it here, but before long the whole archive will move over to City Monitor.

On behalf of the City Monitor team, I’m thrilled to invite you to come along for the ride at our forthcoming digs. You can already follow City Monitor on LinkedIn, and on Twitter, sign up or keep following our existing account, which will switch over to our new name shortly. If you’re interested in learning more about the potential for a commercial partnership with City Monitor, please get in touch with our director of partnerships, Joe Maughan.

I want to thank and congratulate Jonn Elledge on a brilliant run. Everything we do from here on out will be building on the legacy of his work, and the community that he built here at CityMetric. Cheers, Jonn!

In the meantime, stay tuned, and thank you from all of us for being a loyal CityMetric reader. We couldn’t have done any of this without you.

Sommer Mathis is editor-in-chief of City Monitor.