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 mountain in North Wales that tried to stop the UK’s blackout

Elidir Fawr, the mountain in question. Image: Jem Collins.

Last Friday, the UK’s National Grid turned to mush. Not the official term perhaps, but an accurate one after nearly one million people were left without power across the country, with hundreds more stranded at train stations – or even on trains (which isn’t nearly as fun as it might immediately sound). 

Traffic lights stopped working, back-up power failed in hospitals, and business secretary Andrea Leadsom launched an investigation into exactly what happened. So far though, the long and short of it is that a gas-fired power station in Bedfordshire failed just before 5 o’clock, followed just two minutes later by Hornsea offshore wind farm. 

However, amid the resulting chaos and inevitable search to find someone to blame for the outage, a set of mountains (yes, mountains) in North Wales were working extremely hard to keep the lights on.

From the outside, Elidir Fawr, doesn’t scream power generation. Sitting across from the slightly better known Mount Snowdon, it actually seems quite passive. After all, it is a mountain, and the last slate quarry in the area closed in 1969.

At a push, you’d probably guess the buildings at the base of the mountain were something to do with the area’s industrial past, mostly thanks to the blasting scars on its side, as I did when I first walked past last Saturday. 

But, buried deep into Elidir Fawr is the ability to generate an astounding 1,728 megawatts of electricity – enough to power 2.5 million homes, more than the entire population of the Liverpool region. And the plant is capable of running for five hours.

Dubbed by locals at the ‘Electric Mountain’, Dinorwig Power Station, is made up of 16km of underground tunnels (complete with their own traffic light system), in an excavation which could easily house St Paul’s Cathedral.

Instead, it’s home to six reversible pumps/turbines which are capable of reaching full capacity in just 16 seconds. Which is probably best, as Londoners would miss the view.

‘A Back-Up Facility for The National Grid’

And, just as it often is, the Electric Mountain was called into action on Friday. A spokesperson for First Hydro Company, which owns the generators at Dinorwig, and the slightly smaller Ffestiniog, both in Snowdonia, confirmed that last Friday they’d been asked to start generating by the National Grid.

But just how does a mountain help to ease the effects of a blackout? Or as it’s more regularly used, when there’s a surge in demand for electricity – most commonly when we all pop the kettle on at half-time during the World Cup, scientifically known as TV pick-up.

The answer lies in the lakes at both the top and bottom of Elidir Fawr. Marchlyn Mawr, at the top of the mountain, houses an incredible 7 million tonnes of water, which can be fed down through the mountain to the lake at the bottom, Llyn Peris, generating electricity as it goes.


“Pumped storage technology enables dynamic response electricity production – ofering a critical back-up facility during periods of mismatched supply and demand on the national grid system,” First Hydro Company explains.

The tech works essentially the same way as conventional hydro power – or if you want to be retro, a spruced up waterwheel. When the plant releases water from the upper reservoir, as well as having gravity on their side (the lakes are half a kilometre apart vertically) the water shafts become smaller and smaller, further ramping up the pressure. 

This, in turn, spins the turbines which are linked to the generators, with valves regulating the water flow. Unlike traditional UK power stations, which can take hours to get to full capacity, at Dinorwig it’s a matter of 16 seconds from a cold start, or as little as five if the plant is on standby.

And, designed with the UK’s 50hz frequency in mind, the generator is also built to shut off quickly and avoid overloading the network. Despite the immense water pressure, the valves are able to close off the supply within just 20 seconds. 

At night, the same thing simply happens in reverse, as low-cost, surplus energy from the grid is used to pump the water back up to where it came from, ready for another day of hectic TV scheduling. Or blackouts, take your pick.

Completed in 1984, the power station was the product of a decade of work, and the largest civil engineering project commissioned at the time – and it remains one of Europe’s largest manmade caverns. Not that you’d know it from the outside. And really, if we’ve learned anything from this, it’s that looks can be deceiving, and that mountains can actually be really damn good at making electricity. 

Jem Collins is a digital journalist and editor whose work focuses on human rights, rural stories and careers. She’s the founder and editor of Journo Resources, and you can also find her tweeting @Jem_Collins.