Being busy working on a major update which we are planning to roll out soon, I kept postponing writing a more thorough explanation of the data which we use on illustreets.co.uk, as well as a discussion on the motivation for this project. Prompted by a recent tweet, I decided that it might actually be a good time to do so.
When we began working on this web app, we looked at the massive amount of open data available, and the potential implications which it may have once it’s put in a geographic context and made easy to use and access by everyone. Taken in isolation, any representation of this data, or part of it, has the potential to become a contentious issue.
In this article I will discuss about deprivation data. I think that this is a really thorny issue, since in Britain being poor almost equates to being dishonourable. The witch-hunt focused on the ‘hordes’ of benefit fraudsters pours even more gasoline over an already burning fire, and deepens the issue instead of solving it.
I personally think that comfortable cynicism and instinct-driven self-deception are leading many to blame the poor. Deep inside, we are just afraid of being like them, so we are comfortably lying to ourselves that they must have done something wrong to be in that situation. We work hard, we pay taxes, we follow the rules, and we will never be like them… Which is nothing but denial – it can happen to anyone.
However, back to deprivation data. The English Indices of Deprivation are created by the British Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) in collaboration with the Social Disadvantage Research Centre at Oxford University. The Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD), which is an aggregation of several important deprivation domains (income, crime, education, etc.) and also the indicator which we use to paint one of the layers on our map, is the most accurate official measure of how local areas compare with others in terms of deprivation.
The technical report accompanying the IMD specifies that:
[T]he model of multiple deprivation is based on the idea of separate dimensions of deprivation which can be recognised and measured separately. These are experienced by individuals living in an area. The area itself can be characterised as deprived, relative to other areas, in a particular dimension of deprivation on the basis of the proportion of people in the area experiencing the type of deprivation in question. In other words, the experience of the people in an area gives the area its deprivation characteristics. The area itself is not deprived, though the presence of a concentration of people experiencing deprivation in an area may give rise to a compounding deprivation effect, but this is still measured by reference to those individuals.
I other words, it is not the deprivation of an area that is being measured, but the proportion of deprived individuals living in that area, as well as the particular domains of deprivation which they experience.
In our opinion, that simply just doesn’t make an area good or bad. However, it can help one gauge some important characteristics of the neighbourhood. Whilst ‘Income deprivation’ shouldn’t be a serious worry for those looking to move there, one should think twice before moving into an area that has a low ‘Living environment’ rank (which is even the case of many highly prized, central areas). A neighbourhood ranking low under this indicator is likely to have a high incidence of road accidents, high pollution, or housing of poor quality.
Illustreets is not the first to put the English Indices of Deprivation on a map, and most certainly will not be the last. However, we realised that deprivation alone would, by far, offer an incomplete picture of an area. As a result, we added more data and visualisations. As one can see, some neighbourhoods that might appear as ‘undesirable’ due to deprivation, are actually quite enticing due to good transport links, some excellent schools that might be in the area, low levels of crime (some of them), and so on. Otherwise, why would so many homebuyers compete so fiercely for a place in a deprived area such as Hackney?
Our intention is, put simply, to help people find the best places to live for their budget. Those who are in doubt can have a look at some London suburbs, such as Bromley, Sidcup, Welling, and Dartford. Sidcup to Central London is about an hour by train at 8:00 AM. Someone living in Brent Park would spend about the same time on Jubilee and District lines, but with the added luxury of paying about £300 more in monthly rent. Also, a quick look at the nearest 15 schools around Brent Park reveals only one school rated by Ofsted as ‘outstanding’ (1), whilst Chislehurst has three. For someone who has no personal and emotional ties to a particular place, the choice of living in South East London might just make more economic sense.