Mapping inequality in the UK from the Victorian era to the 2019 election
Maptastic: the FT’s head of visual and data journalism Alan Smith looks at the most unequal parts of the UK, and how social researcher and reformer Charles Booth’s 19th century maps of poverty are being updated for the 21st century
Produced by Tom Hannen. Studio filming by Nicola Stansfield and Petros Gioumpasis
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So Alasdair, we're talking maps today, and we're also talking inequality which is a big word in the election manifestos this year. But in fact, when we talk about mapping inequality that's not a new thing. It's been done before. So who was the first to do it?
Well, the first person really to do this on a large scale was Charles Booth in Victorian London. And his study of life and labour of the people of London is really the main one people look to as the first.
So people think of him almost as the first social scientist because of it. We've got one of his maps here, which is looking at the area of Whitechapel in London. And just looking at it, it looks like a really normal sort of street map except there's colours everywhere. What do the colours show us?
The colours indicate the social class of the individuals who live in these different buildings. So, for example, along Whitechapel Road, we can see Charles Booth's category as identifying these people as well-to-do, middle class. Whereas, if you just turn off to a side street, all of a sudden you see different categories. Very poor or poor or even the lowest class on his map, which he at the time dubbed "vicious, semi-criminal."
These category labels are fascinating because they say a lot about attitudes towards the impoverished at the time perhaps. So, in Victorian London going to talk about this cheek by jowl index that you've developed later. But in Victorian London, according to Booth, prosperity was always just a little turn away from chronic want and chronic need.
Exactly. That's what you see. You don't have to go too far off the main thoroughfares before you suddenly have these intense areas of poverty.
How did he collect this information?
Well, unlike today, where we'd probably just quickly download the data and map it, he had to get out and about and use up a lot of shoe leather, also a team of researchers with essentially clipboards and notebooks surveying most of inner London effectively, speaking to residents, taking notes. And obviously all this is all online now for us to use, but very much a data-driven exercise, but collected through hard work.
So actually given the inequality's mentioned in all of these political manifestos for the election, it's actually quite a timely thing to have delivered this look at inequality across the whole of England.
Yeah. I mean, when we started this project about 18 months ago, of course, we had no idea there would be an election anytime soon. But it has coincided with this, and obviously the manifestos mention inequality. So yeah, it's quite timely, we think.
So if we fast forward from the Victorian era and look at the outcomes of your work at the University of Sheffield, what is this map showing us?
This is a map of the whole of England broken down into travel to work areas. So each individual area, like London here, is effectively a commuter zone. So people travel within these to work, and these boundaries contain local labour markets. Another example would be up in Liverpool, where you have Liverpool on The Wirral as one local labour market, or Berwick, where the local labour market area goes across into Scotland across the border.
So you deliberately didn't use things like parliamentary constituencies and local authority areas because they don't necessarily reflect day-to-day human life in the way that these areas do. Because if I pick any one of these areas. So if I pick Hull here, this area is defined like it is because most of the people who live here work here. That's right?
That's exactly right. It's what we call self-contained. It's a self-contained labour market area.
So that explains what the areas are. What do the colours mean?
This particular measure of inequality relates to how closely packed together people of the same kind of socio-economic class are. The darker colours indicate where people who are more similar live closer together. And the lighter colours is the opposite.
So in the lighter areas, that's where we're saying there's a big contrast between the people who live within those areas - if you like, it could be the haves and the have-nots?
Why do we care about this? I mean, why does this matter, do you think?
There is a number of reasons. So it could be just to do with the provision of services. Another good reason for caring about inequality would be to do with the political fallout right and how that feeds into the electoral process, which we've probably seen in the last few years.
OK, does that mean the areas that are dark, where there's relatively little inequality - these darker patches here across the north, over in Cornwall and the southwest over here in Lincolnshire - are we saying that in those darker areas that they're not problem areas?
Well, there is a couple of ways of looking at it. One would be to say inequality here is not a problem. But the other, and I think more plausible, explanation would be that inequality is not necessarily the issue but absolute poverty across the board. So what we have is relatively equal but quite poor.
There's no inequality because everyone's poor. That's probably not...
Yeah, it's probably not what we're aiming for.
...what you're aiming for, OK. So we were fascinated by this map when we first looked at it because if we look at just the lightest coloured areas on the map, that's the top 20 most unequal areas in England, according to this data. So if we base it on just the proximity of the haves and the have-nots living cheek by jowl, much in the way that we just looked at with the Charles Booth map of Whitechapel, these areas here are the top 20 for inequality in England. So we have unsurprisingly, I suppose, London is here... most of these areas are actually Midlands and to the north of England, with one big exception being in the south we have the Portsmouth travel to work area here is showing up as highly unequal.
This particular measure of inequality generally picks out places in the Midlands and north of England, which your traditional centres of manufacturing, your ex-industrial locations are at. For example, if you look at somewhere like Barrow-in-Furness travel to work area, or you look at somewhere like Blackpool or even Sheffield's travel to work area, or Hull, these are areas of traditional industry, where worker housing was packed very tightly together, much like in the way it was in those Charles Booth maps.
So that's really interesting because, for me - and I'll have to reveal a personal fact here - I grew up in the Portsmouth area. And one of the things when I was growing up is that people always used to describe the Portsmouth area as a northern city transplanted to the south coast. So it's fascinating to see it coming out here at the national level.
Let's take a look - and because I'm biased - we're going to have a look at this Portsmouth travel to work area and see what's really going on there. So what we've got here, first of all... just to show you that we're zooming in... so we've got some satellite imagery here of the wider Portsmouth area. So we're zoomed quite in. Even on this satellite image, we can see roads and so on.
But what we can do is if we take a layer... effectively this is your map zoomed in... we can see that actually this Portsmouth travel to work area, which is this big yellow area here, it actually extends quite a long way. And in fact, it's a peculiar shape because it's quite tall but quite narrow. And I know that that's actually a good thing, as far as the commuting patterns are concerned. Because knowing this area, I know that there is a motorway going up here, and that this is actually a commuting corridor and that there's not as much travel across. So that validates the geography. REVISED TO HERE
But what we're really interested in doing now is looking at the neighbourhood level information that allowed you to make this area bright yellow. So let's bring in this neighbourhood level information for the Portsmouth area. And this is the first time that we really start to capture some of the neighbourhood level gradients in income deprivation that allowed you to decide which areas of the country were more unequal than others.
Again, let's think about the colour. The colour is now not showing us the inequality, is it? The colour is now showing us the actual level of deprivation.
ALASDAIR RAE: That's right. So the individual areas are these 32,000 areas, neighbourhood level, about 1,600 people or so.
ALAN SMITH: That's these very small individual pockets of colour. They're individual neighbourhoods.
ALASDAIR RAE: They're individual neighbourhoods essentially. And what we see here is a lighter colour. So the lighter colours here are areas that score more highly on the deprivation index. And at the other end of the scale, generally you'll find these in the suburban areas-- the darkest colours on the map, the least deprived area. So they're really usually quite affluent neighbourhoods.
ALAN SMITH: Going back to what you were saying about the traditional patterns-- so this is Portsmouth city centre over here-- the idea that you've actually got high levels of deprivation in the city centre, gradually getting a little more affluent as you spread out into much more affluent rural areas. That's a repeating pattern across the country.
ALASDAIR RAE: Exactly. That's generally what we see everywhere.
ALAN SMITH: OK, one of the things that fascinated me knowing about this area, though, is that in the Portsmouth travel to work area you don't just have the city centre area deprived. You've actually got an area called Paulsgrove up here, which is also coming out as quite highly deprived for income, but also this area up here. Now, this is the area in the north of Havant-- the town of Havant, which is part of this commuting corridor. This is the Leigh Park Estate.
So there's two points here which are in the most deprived 10%, in national terms, which is Leigh Park and then a part of Leigh Park called Warren Park. You have these multiple pockets of deprivation surrounded by much more affluence. And these areas are not far away from each other.
The thing that struck me when I looked at this data for the first time was that this darkest colour here suggests that this is the most affluent 10%, in nationwide terms, bordering areas that are in the most deprived percentiles of the country. That's the essence of your spatial inequality?
ALASDAIR RAE: That's right. So traditionally, you'd just expect to see a geographical gradient, where you don't really get these extremes next to each other. There's a number of reasons why you might get that. Sometimes it's brownfield land where new housing is being put, and maybe that's more luxury housing, luxury flats. And we've seen a lot of that over the last 20 years.
But occasionally what you get is a really steep social gradient, and sometimes it's because of a road like you can see here. Or it might be a river or a railway line, something like that.
ALAN SMITH: So there'll be some physical separation, even though they might--
ALASDAIR RAE: Usually.
ALAN SMITH: --be close to each other. Now, that takes me again back to Booth because when Booth carried out his two surveys 10 years apart, one of the things that he said was that actually neighbourhood renewal was one of the things that was helping to reinforce isolation of the deprived, because there was a big railway building boom in the period and a slum clearance programme. And his contention was that building railway lines actually helped to box people in. We can still see signs of that. The physical geography is different.
ALASDAIR RAE: Exactly. And if you go back maybe 50 years before Charles Booth's map you have Benjamin Disraeli talking about people living and being dwellers in different zones. And if you go back to antiquity, in Plato's Republic, we have him talking about different quarters of cities, some rich and some poor. So these are not new themes, but what we see in the map is we see these patterns repeated at the small scale through time.
ALAN SMITH: But this is the first time we've been able to see this data using your atlas, if you like, to identify the places to look at. So one of the things about looking at the maps like this, though, is that it looks like this area is connected to this area and to this area. But we can see kind of through the satellite imagery peeping behind that actually there is nothing physical connecting those areas because it looks like that's fields and country.
So one of the things that we can do here is bring the road network in here. And that helps us to really see what's going on. Because going back to this deprived area here of Leigh Park and the Warren here in Havant, if you look at the road network, you can actually see that this area here is pretty isolated. Although it's very close in geographical terms, as the crow flies, on three sides, it looks like Warren Park here is isolated from these more affluent areas.
So let's just take a little nip into here and see what we find. What we're talking about, Leigh Park.
SUBJECT 1: Leigh Park used to have a right reputation for roughness and that. It is a bit scruffy, but it is what it is. But I mean, once upon a time, Park Parade, as we used to call it, used to have the main road going up the middle of it. I can remember it. There used to be a Woolies there.
ALAN SMITH: Do you think there's still a sense of community in Leigh Park?
SUBJECT 1: Not as much as there used to be, no. I don't know. I really don't know. I mean, look, these shutters-- dammed. It's either no one's in there, or they don't open it until halfway through the night.
ALAN SMITH: Did you go to places like Emsworth, or--
SUBJECT 2: No.
ALAN SMITH: No? OK.
SUBJECT 2: No, because I've only got a bus to catch. I can't wait for somebody to take me places.
ALAN SMITH: All right. Yeah, so you tend to stay in the local area for your day-to-day, that sort of stuff?
SUBJECT 2: Yeah.
ALAN SMITH: OK. Tell us about growing up in Leigh Park. What was that like?
SUBJECT 3: Well, I enjoyed it. I've got three sisters, and we was all-- we've all turned out fine, I think.
ALAN SMITH: So what role does the Community Centre play for you?
SUBJECT 3: Yeah, it's brilliant. We used to go to a youth group here. And now we've obviously both got children. We try to come at least once a week. It's mostly cheap, and it's really likable to us.
ALAN SMITH: Does it feel like a Community Centre?
SUBJECT 3: Yeah.
ALAN SMITH: Do you feel like there's that sense of neighbourliness?
SUBJECT 3: Yeah, it's lovely.
ALAN SMITH: So do you know places like Rowlands Castle and Emsworth? Do you go there?
SUBJECT 3: Not really, no.
ALAN SMITH: Do you meet many people from those areas? Or do they tend to keep themselves to themselves?
SUBJECT 3: Yeah, yeah. If we go there, you feel a bit like, hmm, where are you from? Leigh Park-- and it sort of makes you feel a bit awful. But yeah, no, it's nice to have something here for us.
ALAN SMITH: You know, you have a motorway here, fields and a golf course here, I think. And you can see that it's connected but only to itself. I mean, I know that that was a post World War II housing estate. Is that a typical pattern from that era of--
ALASDAIR RAE: We do see a lot of that, so good examples of this all across the country. Glasgow's always used as an example. It's a good way of understanding that, although people have lives in theory in the same geographical spaces, they're often living completely different lives, disconnected from neighbourhoods that are literally right next door.
ALAN SMITH: So this is why we can call this the cheek by jowl index because they're co-located almost but living very different socioeconomic--
ALASDAIR RAE: Exactly.
ALAN SMITH: --lives. And the other thing is, particularly with the Leigh Park area, is just how surrounded it is by affluence. I mean, what you were saying earlier about a gradient, that just doesn't exist in any direction. It's a steep cliff face, if you like, of deprivation, which is fascinating. What would Charles Booth make of this stuff today, do you think?
ALASDAIR RAE: I think he'd be quite surprised at the lack of connections between these places because at least in his London maps everywhere was very well-connected. Here, not so much, and I think he'd probably question the aims and objectives of 1960s planners perhaps.
ALAN SMITH: The locals call this area the Warren because of this network of streets that are inward looking. But it scores very poorly on connectedness to everywhere else.
Excuse me? We're doing a little bit of filming about Leigh Park. I wonder if we could have a word or two with you about it, if we parked up the car and had a quick chat.
SUBJECT 4: Yeah.
ALAN SMITH: Is that all right?
So what brought you to Leigh Park in the first place?
SUBJECT 4: I got married. I was living in Selsey at the time.
ALAN SMITH: Oh, OK.
SUBJECT 4: And I married a Leigh Park girl.
ALAN SMITH: So you've stayed on the estate ever since?
SUBJECT 4: Yes.
ALAN SMITH: Do you think that because it is geographically so separate from the rest of Havant, that that actually helps with the community spirit, do you think?
SUBJECT 4: Yes, I think so. Yes. We're a little bit isolated from Havant, but I've never seen much trouble up here in 30 years.
ALAN SMITH: Do you feel, compared to when you were in Selsey, that people are more likely to stay in Leigh Park in the sense that it is that community space that people don't--
SUBJECT 4: Yeah, I think so. Yes. Not many people know each other in Selsey. Where you would get to know people-- you get to know people in here.
ALAN SMITH: So we're saying that actually, it's not like it's even stayed the same. In some cases, because of post World War II planning, some of these areas are actually even worse than they were back in Booth's day.
ALASDAIR RAE: The old first law of geography tells us that everywhere is connected to everywhere else. And in theory, near places should be more connected. But what you see sometimes is that's not the case. Near places are sometimes very disconnected and very much not like each other.
ALAN SMITH: On the basis that it's unlikely that anyone from one of these more affluent areas nearby is going to accidentally wander through the deprived areas because you have to make the effort to get there, and there is not a natural flow--
ALASDAIR RAE: No, exactly.
ALAN SMITH: --across those areas. One of the things I felt while we were doing this whole exercise and looking at these maps is just what Booth would have made of our cartography, the fact that we are letting these areas run out. If I take the road network off, these areas, they do run into each other. They're kind of space-filling, aren't they?
ALASDAIR RAE: Yeah.
ALAN SMITH: Although it looks like this is one big area full of people, actually it's a rural area, and there's not much going on here. So one of the things that we wanted to do in the spirit of Booth was that with this sort of mapping we're showing that everywhere is filled with colour, and that's not really that representative of what we're showing.
ALASDAIR RAE: No, and one of the things, with these neighbourhood areas that we're using, there are about 32,000 of them, and they're designed so that each one should have a roughly similar amount of people. But in less dense areas like here, where population density is very low, these areas are very, very big. But of course, not many people actually live in the whole area.
ALAN SMITH: So one of the things that we did then was to cut through this map with a street and road network that would allow us to get something that looks a lot more like the maps that Booth was making. So let's take those away and replace it with a view of that cut road network.
And so here we go. Now I feel a bit more comfortable because it's what Booth would recognise as a map that's very similar to his own. So we've retained the colours. So the light colours are still the most deprived areas. There's the Leigh Park Estate and the Warren. Here's the city centre of Portsmouth. This is the more affluent areas. Emsworth is here.
We're no longer in the Warren Park Estate. We're clearly somewhere more affluent. Let's see what we can find.
Does it surprise you when I said that this area came out very high for inequality relative to the rest of the country?
SUBJECT 5: That's not been my experience, no.
ALAN SMITH: Have you been in Emsworth for a long time?
SUBJECT 6: 15 years.
ALAN SMITH: 15 years?
SUBJECT 6: 15, 16 years.
ALAN SMITH: Did you come to it from somewhere close by or from--
SUBJECT 6: From Bognor Regis.
ALAN SMITH: Do you know any of the areas that I just mentioned-- Rowlands Castle, Havant, Leigh Park? Do any of those areas--
SUBJECT 6: Yeah.
ALAN SMITH: What's your impressions of those areas?
SUBJECT 6: Rowlands Castle, pretty nice, pretty steepy. Leigh Park, it's had it's day as it is. Far too big-- it was the largest in Europe at the time it was built, I think. Havant, that's fine, good shopping centre in there, good area. The biggest effect is the amount of building that's going on at the present moment and the stretching of our services.
SUBJECT 7: I live in the square anyway.
ALAN SMITH: You live in the square, and you've been in Emsworth since you were three, you say?
SUBJECT 7: Three.
ALAN SMITH: OK, so how has Emsworth changed during that time?
SUBJECT 7: Hugely. Across the other side of the Bell Pond, there are houses there which 50 years ago were selling for about. 35,000 Now they're a half million.
ALAN SMITH: Wow.
SUBJECT 7: So it's a big, big change in the housing situation, which doesn't help people who have just moved into Emsworth. Younger people can't really find affordable housing, like a lot of places. But Emsworth used to be on the par with Havant in terms of property prices. It's not bad for us that live here. But on the other hand, it's not very good for younger people.
ALAN SMITH: So given that change actually, that you've just said between Havant and Emsworth on the prices, does it surprise you when I have mentioned to somebody else just a minute ago, that this area has been identified as one of the most economically unequal areas in the country, if you take the whole Portsmouth region?
SUBJECT 7: That would surprise me because I think property prices vary on a much smaller basis than they did 25, 30 years ago. Leigh Park, you may or may not know that Leigh Park was built after the Second World War, when all the houses in Portsmouth were-- not all of them-- were bombed. So the council bought Leigh Park, which is a big country house, and they built-- it was the biggest council estate in the whole of the UK at one stage.
ALAN SMITH: We picked up a lot of the very similar thoughts, actually, in terms of strength of sentiment about local community. But for the first time, I think, we also picked up some really interesting things about the way that some places close to each other can have knock-on effects of each other. So the discussion in there about how property prices have ballooned here in Emsworth at the expense of Havant, and in fact, the interplay between Portsmouth and Leigh Park with Havant being bypassed-- these ideas that although these are separate places, they are economically interlinked, and what happens in one place can cascade into another-- it's very, very interesting.
ALASDAIR RAE: Having a map like this, the previous map we had is something we would a choropleth map, whereas here it just shows you where the buildings are. It shows you where people live, effectively, in a way that allows us to unpick the urban fabric and get a better understanding of the potential for interaction but also where the break points are-- where you can see, particularly here, a slight geographical separation between areas that are very close together but possibly not in terms of their social interactions.
ALAN SMITH: For me, finally, knowing this area, you really can start to see this Leigh Park area for the relatively isolated area that it is. And that they're actually, although they are very close to each other, there are these gaps appearing across major segments right across the whole commuting area. Suddenly starting to see much more subtle decisions which, like you say, are long-term consequences of urban planning decisions.
ALASDAIR RAE: The other thing this shows for me is how pioneering Charles Booth was in his representation of poverty and the urban fabric. These kind of things are very difficult to do well, to do simply, and to tell the story of places. And I think this does a much better job than the previous map in doing that.
ALAN SMITH: Where do you hope that this new Booth map, if we can call it that, is going to go.
ALASDAIR RAE: Yeah, it's really, for us, about providing better spatial intelligence. This is what people maybe know intuitively from their own neighbourhoods, but do they understand it at a national level? So what we wanted to do is provide a national map at a local level that would allow policymakers, politicians, members of the public-- anyone who's interested in this kind of thing-- to understand local inequalities.
ALAN SMITH: When I talked to people about what we've been looking at with this map, a lot of people are saying exactly this. They said, well, of course, there are rich areas and poor areas within cities. Everyone knows them. But I think the thing that surprised me with this was that the colours we're using here are not just for the local area. These areas place us in the national rankings. So when we say the difference between a bright yellow and a black colour here, that's the full spectrum of the national range in income deprivation.
So let's have a look. Let's zoom back out again and look at what all of those neighbourhoods look like. And so here it is. This is our national view of localised deprivation patterns. So just to clarify with you, Alasdair, this is all of those 32,000 areas that you were talking about earlier, all of those neighbourhoods. This is all 32,000 on one map?
ALASDAIR RAE: Yeah.
ALAN SMITH: What sort of patterns are we seeing when we zoom this out to the national level?
ALASDAIR RAE: The highest areas of deprivation are to be found-- so in the west, Midlands or Merseyside or West Yorkshire or the northeast of England or Humberside. But one of the things people don't often pay so much attention to is a kind of string of depraved seaside locations. And it might not be entire towns-- sometimes it's just little pockets. So we have this in Lincolnshire. Or we may have that in Essex. Or we may have that on the south coast of Kent.
So some of those aren't immediately obvious. But again, we have that all over. Now, we do say, there's rich and poor everywhere, but they're disproportionately clustered in those places and also in London.
ALAN SMITH: And actually, one of the other things that I think I spotted when we first loaded this up was that those areas that we were talking about right at the start that don't have much inequality, you can almost see them on here because of the more consistent colour patterns. The southwestern, the Cornwall area, there's much less of this alternating bright and dark colour. It's more uniformly purple, middling--
ALASDAIR RAE: Yeah, that's right.
ALAN SMITH: --in terms of deprivation. And finally, I think looking at it in these terms, you've finally got a map that really would take the attention of Charles Booth because this is the sort of map he wasn't able to produce, simply because of the restrictions that he was working with back in the Victorian time. Great. Thank you very much.