Isolated residents of the City Fringe are being failed

The IMD reveal some marked improvements in the City Fringe, but a core of people are being left behind by its success.
City Fringe

Photo credit: Alan Stanton

The Indices of Multiple Deprivation 2015 (IMD 2015), released a couple of weeks ago and created by the lovely folk at OCSI, highlight just how much East London has changed in recent years. That change is not simple, but it is essential for understanding what is going on in the capital at the moment. In this article, I focus on the City Fringe, an area close to Renaisi’s heart. We can see that while the IMD reveals some marked improvements in the area – which will have benefitted many residents – there remains a core of people left behind by its success.

Understanding the IMD

For the uninitiated, the indices are surpassed in interest only by the Census for those who like to understand changes within our country at the neighbourhood scale. Whilst the Census aims to give an absolute picture of our places and neighbourhoods, the Index is purely interested in deprivation, and only in ranking that deprivation relative to other places in England. It is the fourth IMD that has been published, coming after data in 2004, 2007 and 2010. The research report that was published with the data, which comes with all the important health warnings of how to use (and not use) these indices, is well worth a read in full.

The report excels in highlighting change in places over the different years of IMD and how to understand it. The data works at a very small scale (‘Lower Super Output Area’) but can also be aggregated up to local authority level. If you want to just skip to the local authority changes though, then section 5.3 is for you. This examines the various ways in which you could use the relative data that the index creates to rank authorities: average rank of areas within the authority, average scores of areas within the authority, the proportion of areas in the authority that are from the most deprived ten per cent nationally, the extent to which each borough sees deprivation and the local concentration of that deprivation. Each tells a different story of the experiences of deprivation.

Focusing on the Fringe

If you look at the average rank of deprivation, the three east-central London boroughs of Hackney, Tower Hamlets, and Islington were ranked first, second and third most-deprived in the country respectively, back in 2004. In 2015, they have fallen to second, sixth and 13th. Head further out of East London and in that same period, Barking and Dagenham has moved up from 21st to third. In terms of the extent of deprivation, Hackney, Tower Hamlets, and Islington boroughs were first, second and third in 2004 (same order). They’ve now moved to 11th, third and 26th. In many ways, this isn’t news: the demographic change in Hackney has been observed for several years, with the population changes between the 2001 and 2011 censuses being particularly significant; similarly, attempts have been made to understand the new economy and culture that has been created by these changes. Some call it hipster, flat-white economy, gentrification or something else (and in my opinion we really need better language for this), but whatever it is, it is having a significant effect)[i]. Seeing those changes in the IMD is pretty stark.

What is interesting to me is the combination of economy and deprivation. Since our inception, Renaisi has been deeply engaged in both, and the area of London that we have historically worked in the most is the City Fringe – the parts of Islington, Hackney and Tower Hamlets that surround the City. The area has had two New Deal for Communities programmes (pumping over £50 million into the respective neighbourhoods of Finsbury and Shoreditch in ten years) as well as the City Fringe Partnership, which worked to develop the business spaces, connections and support across the area. I started my time at Renaisi by working on the EC1 New Deal for Communities programme, and so I have been watching these changes for almost ten years now.

A look at the area over the four different IMD points shows the change. In effect, it shows a decile shift for the area in that period in terms of relative deprivation. On average, the 71 LSOAs highlighted here were of the 11.7% most deprived areas in 2004, and they’ve moved to 22% most deprived by 2015. The maps below show the IMD percentile bands for each of the 71 LSOAs that have been used here to define the City Fringe.

City Fringe LSOAs

Source: IMD 2015

Of that change (a move of 10.3 percentage points), just over half has happened between 2010 and 2015. Or put another way, the improvements in the area are steadily speeding up. The following map shows the rank changes for each area between 2004 and 2015.

City Fringe LSOA changes

Source: IMD 2015

If this was an absolute measure, it would be demonstrably good news. But any ranked relative measure suggests that there have to be relative losers as well as winners. As highlighted above, outer London boroughs such as Barking and Dagenham are relative losers in London, and that’s before we look outside the capital. These issues are too big to address adequately in this article, but I will look at the distinction between inner and outer London in more detail in a future post. If you can’t wait for that (!) then the London Datastore already has an explorer map up and running for the capital.

A forgotten group?

The reason for highlighting the City Fringe in particular, and the fact that it was an area that benefitted from both substantial economic development and neighbourhood regeneration funding in the past, is to factor in one more issue. If you combine the old incapacity benefit claimant counts with the newer employment support allowance (an imperfect combination, but not a terrible proxy for the same issue of significant distance from the labour market for health or disability reasons and in need of state support), then something interesting can be seen.

City Fringe IMD benefit claimants

Source: IMD 2015

The numbers rose from 6,000 up to early 2001, and from then until today that claimant count has averaged 7,087, and never veered further away from 250 more or less. Given everything that has happened in that part of London in this 15-year period, there have continued to be 7,000 people across the different parts of the area claiming an illness or disability benefit.

Whilst there are many positives for the City Fringe – from new businesses and industries to population growth and reducing deprivation – an isolated section of the population remains, and remains. We have known many of them from our work over the years, and we also know that the economy and social policies continue to side-line them. They live in the social housing blocks of south Islington, Hackney and west Tower Hamlets that are being surrounded by newer blocks. They are not being actively supported by the Work Programme, which despite improving its performance, is not incentivising support to these individuals. And they are seeing falling levels of support from their respective local authorities with cuts. They don’t have the larger regeneration programmes to engage with, but there are some great charities and organisations who continue to support them. They aren’t the people who Theresa May said will have their jobs taken off them by immigrants, partly because many of them are immigrants too, and partly because, for many employers, they are currently unemployable.

The City Fringe is a significant success, but those 7,000 people continue, in my opinion, to be ignored. The recent update to the London Poverty Profile shows that whilst there is much to celebrate across the capital, not all of our communities are benefitting, and sometimes those communities are hidden in the biggest success stories.

[i] The Huffington Post UK has a whole news section on Gentrification. It’s mainly about Hackney.

John Hitchin
John Hitchin

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