These maps show how hard it is to measure inequality in English council areas

Maps! Maps! Maps! Image: author provided.

As heads of state, billionaires and other influencers pondered the issue of inequality at the World Economic Forum in Davos, an unlikely hero emerged in the form of Dutch historian Rutger Bregman. His memorable take down of the super wealthy on tax avoidance clearly resonated, at a time when the deep social divisions associated with inequality are manifesting themselves forcefully across the world: from the gilet jaunes protests in France, to the ongoing fallout from Brexit.

In the UK, people often think about inequality in geographical terms: for example, places such as Kensington in London are considered “rich”, while Blackpool in Lancashire is considered “poor”. In reality there are rich and poor areas almost everywhere, but they are not distributed evenly across England.

Inner urban neighbourhoods are often associated with deprivation, as are the so-called “left-behind” towns so often associated with Brexit, but quite often rural poverty is overlooked. When we began investigating inequality in England, as part of a new project funded by the Nuffield Foundation, we quickly found that the truth is far more complex.

Kensington constituency. Image: Alasdair Rae and Elvis Nyanzu, University of Sheffield.

Take Kensington, for example: when we mapped out data from government statistics on deprivation, we found that it’s actually a very unequal area.

We want to cut through old stereotypes and divisions, by presenting data in a new way, which sheds light on the longstanding inequalities within and between places – no matter how big or small, or urban or rural they are.

By the time we complete our project in 2020, we hope to produce an atlas of inequality, which illustrates the scale and severity of inequality across England, right down to a local level – since that’s where its impacts are felt most keenly.

Divided cities?

Looking at the data for English cities, the problems with mapping inequality become clearer. The maps below show eight major English cities, plus Greater London. Areas shown in red are among the 10 per cent most deprived in the whole of England, whereas the blue areas are among the 10 per cent least deprived. The ratio of red to blue areas is shown in the bar along the bottom of each city map.

Divided cities? Areas among the 10 per cent most and least deprived in England. Image: Alasdair Rae and Elvis Nyanzu, University of Sheffield.

Some cities look very deprived, others are quite mixed. In Sheffield in particular you could almost draw a straight line between the red and blue areas. Where boundaries are drawn matters a lot. Take Manchester, for example: its official boundary doesn’t include places which are functionally part of the city, such as Salford, where a lot of people work.

The City of Manchester (black outline) and surrounding areas. Image: Alasdair Rae, University of Sheffield.

Looking at the map of Manchester above, you might think it’s quite deprived, but you only have to look beyond the boundaries, in the map to the left, to see things in a different light. By contrast, Leeds has a wide boundary which extends far beyond the core of the city, and takes in wealthier places like Wetherby.

The blue areas all sit outside the functional core of the city, yet from an administrative point of view, they’re still part of Leeds. So although you might assume that Manchester is considerably more deprived than Leeds, the reality is more complex.

Is inequality inevitable?

Our initial findings have raised some critical issues, which prompted us to think more deeply about what level of inequality might ultimately be considered “acceptable” in the first place – and especially, whether areas with greater levels of inequality have worse outcomes.

This might seem like a strange thing to consider, but it’s important because it speaks to the issue of what kind of society we want to live in – and, as a result, what policies can be put in place to bring that about.

What would an ‘acceptable’ deprivation profile look like? Image: author provided.

The graph above looks at a very simple measure of inequality across three of England’s 149 official labour market areas (also known as “travel to work areas” or TTWAs). It shows what proportion of neighbourhoods are within each deprivation decile (i.e. poorest 10 per cent, 20 per cent and so on) for Lincoln, Liskeard and Liverpool. For example, you can see that a large proportion of Liverpool’s neighbourhoods are within the 10 per cent most deprived areas across England (the tallest bar on the Liverpool chart), yet this is not the case in Lincoln or Liskeard.

Lincoln has a more balanced profile, and Liskeard has far more areas in the middle. The key question here is how these variations in local inequalities impact both the life chances of individuals and overall levels of economic vitality.


At a time when society is defined more by its cleavages than its cohesiveness, it’s more important than ever to have a clear-eyed understanding of where inequality exists, and what impact it has on local people.

Of course, data and maps aren’t the only way of gaining insights into inequality – nor are they always as compelling as other media, like striking photographs, or people’s personal stories. Our approach is only one way of understanding the world. But it can help to inform leaders in local and national governments about inequality, and, we hope, lead to action which makes life better for people living in relative poverty.

The Conversation

Alasdair Rae, Professor in Urban Studies and Planning, University of Sheffield and Elvis Nyanzu, PhD Candidate in Urban Studies and Planning, University of Sheffield.

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

 
 
 
 

The Tory manifesto promises to both increase AND decrease the rate of housebuilding

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick. Image: Getty.

In his 2014 Mansion House speech, the then-chancellor George Osborne expressed with uncharacteristic honesty the motives at the heart of how the Conservatives see British housing politics: “The British people want our homes to go up in value, but also remain affordable; and we want more homes built, just not next to us.”

Five years later these contradictions remain unreconciled and present in their manifesto, which contains two different and contradictory – but clearly extensively targeted and focus-grouped – sets of policies.

The Conservatives have two housing targets. The first is to make significant progress to hitting “our target of 300,000 houses built a year by the mid-2020s”. The second is their aim to build “at least a million new homes” during the next parliament, which implies a target of 200,000 homes a year. This is not only 100,000 lower than their initial target but also lower than the current rate of housebuilding: 213,660 new homes a year. They have therefore implied at separate points in the same manifesto that they intend to simultaneously increase and decrease the rate of housebuilding.  

There are similar conflicts in their approach to planning. They intend to make the “planning system simpler” while simultaneously aiming to introduce community-led design standards for development and planning obligations to provide infrastructure for the local community.

None of this is unsurprising, The Tories don’t seem to know if they want to build more houses or not – so of course they don’t know whether they wish to make it easier or harder to do so.  

Politicians like obfuscation on housing policy to placate NIMBY voters. Take for example prospective Conservative MP and ‘environmentalist’ Zac Goldsmith’s crusade to save treasured local car parks. The manifesto can equally be accused of pandering to NIMBY instincts, protecting their shire voters from all housing, including ones they might actually need or want, by promising to protect the greenbelt.  

Instead, Conservatives intend to foist development on Labour-leaning inner-city communities and prioritising brownfield development and “urban regeneration”. This requires massive, infeasible increases in proposed density on brownfield sites – and research by Shelter has shown there are simply not enough brownfield sites in cities like London. Consequently, it is not clear how such a policy can co-exist with giving these inner-city communities rights on local design. Perhaps they intend to square that circle through wholesale adoption of YIMBY proposals to let residents on each street opt to pick a design code and the right to turn their two-storey semi-detached suburban houses into a more walkable, prettier street of five-storey terraces or mansion blocks. If so, they have not spelt that out. 

Many complain of NIMBYism at a local level and its toxic effects on housing affordability. But NIMBYism at the national level – central government desire to restrict housebuilding to make house prices rise – is the unspoken elephant in the room. After all, 63 per cent of UK voters are homeowners and price rises caused by a housing shortage are hardly unpopular with them. 


There is anecdotal evidence that protecting or inflating the value of homeowners’ assets is central to Conservative strategy. When George Osborne was criticised for the inflation his help to buy policy caused within the housing market, he allegedly told the Cabinet: “Hopefully we will get a little housing boom, and everyone will be happy as property values go up”. More recently Luke Barratt of Inside Housing noted that most Conservatives he spoke to at the 2018 party conference were scared “they’d be punished by their traditional voters if the values of their homes were to fall”. He was told by a Conservative activist at the conference that, “If you build too many houses, you get a Labour government”.

But the senior figures in the Conservative Party are painfully aware that the continuing housing shortage presents major long-term problems for the Party. As the manifesto itself acknowledges: “For the UK to unleash its potential, young people need the security of knowing that homeownership is within their reach.” Perpetual increases in house prices are incompatible with this goal. The problem has greatly contributed to the Conservatives’ severe unpopularity with a younger generation priced out of decent accommodation. 

Equally, there is increasing evidence that ‘gains’ from rising house prices are disproportionately concentrated in the south of England.  The differences in housing costs between regions greatly reduce labour mobility, suppressing wage growth in the north and midlands, which in turn leads to greater regional inequality. The policy of coddling southern homeowners at the expense of the economic well-being of other regions is a major long-term stumbling block to Conservative desires to make inroads into the ‘red wall’ of Leave-voting labour seats outside the south.

Before dealing with the issue of where housing should go, you must decide whether you want to build enough housing to reduce the housing crisis. On this issue, the Conservative response is, “Perhaps”. In contrast, even though they may not know where to put the necessary housing, the Labour Party at least has a desire in the abstract to deal with the crisis, even if the will to fix it, in reality, remains to be seen. 

Ultimately the Conservative Party seems to want to pay lip service to the housing crisis without stopping the ever-upward march of prices, underpinned by a needless shortage. Osborne’s dilemma – that the will of much of his party’s voter base clashes with the need to provide adequate housing – remains at the heart of Conservative housing policy. The Conservatives continue to hesitate, which is of little comfort to those who suffer because of a needless and immoral housing shortage.

Sam Watling is the director of Brighton Yimby, a group which aims to solve Brighton’s housing crisis while maintaining the character of the Sussex countryside.