“A teenager has been stabbed to death in east London,” the BBC reported yesterday. The murder was the 169th of a London teenager in the past decade.
It’s easy to glide over such simple statistics. But Citizens Report, a site which has spent years tracking the data, has a picture and name of almost every one. As with prisoners, the vast majority of those killed – 88 per cent of them – were male. But 20, or two a year, were women. A fifth of all those murdered were under 16. A dozen were beaten to death; 32 were shot. Most – 125 – were stabbed.
But where were they killed? And does the poverty of an area make murder more likely?
At a glance, it's clear that the murders are clustered around east-central London...
...and south-central London:
And the most deadly boroughs are in those areas: Hackney and Newham north of the river, and Southwark and Lambeth to the south. At least ten teenagers have died in two other boroughs: Enfield far to the north, and Croydon well to the south.
These boroughs certainly include some of the less affluent areas of the city – but are they the London’s most deprived? Here are the murders plotted on a detailed ward-by-ward map of London, colour-coded by deprivation.
There appears to be some link between deprivation and deaths: just over a third of the variation in death rates is explained by deprivation.
Now causation doesn’t mean causality: any sententious statistician will tell you as much. What that means is that deprivation isn't necessarily the cause of murders – a different, unidentified cause could be.
And as this site entertainingly shows, many completely unrelated things can be shown to correlate: for a decade now, deaths by asphyxiation have risen in line with US spending on science & tech, for example.
But no teenagers have been murdered in six London boroughs, and five of those are among the city’s ten least deprived. No more than four teenagers have been killed in any of those ten. In contrast, the two most deprived boroughs – Newham and Hackney – are two of the four most deadly, and at least five people have been murdered in each of the ten most deprived.
So a link between deprivation and murder rates does exist – but it is only a starting point for any analysis. The team at Citizens Report went on to test the relationship between ward-level deprivation and deaths, and were surprised at how little of one existed. But they are using the location of deaths as the only barometer of where a murder “took place”.
The wards are so small – rarely encompassing more than a few streets – that murders in one ward could plausibly have really been the end of a conflict that began in a different ward. A borough-level analysis irons these differences out. While not comprehensive, it’s fairly clear: one way to reduce death rates among teenagers is to address poverty.
The full Citizens Report is full of wit and iconoclasm. (“Many say a robust anti-gang approach through policing is essential - you have to fight fire with fire. Most people who deal with fires say the best thing to put out a fire is water.”) You can read the whole thing here.
Harry Lambert is the editor of our sister site, May2015, where this article is also published.