Pilot Mapping of Local Social Polarisation in Three Areas of England
Danny Dorling, Dimitris Ballas, Bethan Thomas and John Pritchard
Department of Geography, University of Sheffield, Winter Street, Sheffield S10
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Summary of Technical Report
The technical report illustrates the possibilities that exist for mapping and
interpreting the changing patterns of social polarisation in England over the
last three decades. By social polarisation we mean the various ways in which
many areas are becoming more socially distinct over time. In general
polarisation involves poor areas becoming relatively poorer and rich areas
becoming richer. In the context of the project described in this report we
constructed, for each of the three study-regions, small sets of areas
(neighbourhoods) that are comparable over time. One of the key aims of the
project was to demonstrate how a series of transects can be used to reduce space
to a single dimension, allowing trends over time to be seen more clearly when
compared to using maps. The concept of transects is analogous to taking short
journeys from affluent suburbs to inner city estates, within each study region.
The pilot project made use of a wide range of Census data and Geographical
Information Systems (GIS) technologies to illustrate how it is possible to
measure and map local social polarisation nationally to gauge the extent to
which it is a long run phenomenon that social policy makers need to take into
account when, for instance, setting targets, delimiting areas for measurement,
or designing policy. The pilot project identified spatial social trends that
appear to be most robust, and thus how it should be assumed that the local human
geography of England may continue to change in the near future. Three areas were
chosen at the suggestion of the Neighbourhood Renewal Unit to attempt to prove
these concepts in this pilot study.
The 178 page technical report contains:
• Section 2 - describes the methods used to construct the small area sets within
each of our study regions.
• Section 3 - describes past trends in key Census variables for all study
• Section 4 - discusses how it is possible to construct indices of changes in
segregation and isolation for these regions.
• Section 5 - offers some concluding comments.
Two large appendices are provided giving further details of all the results:
• Appendix 1 - 78 pages of charts based around 17 sets from population through
economic activity to dwelling price
• Appendix 2 - 24 pages of indices of isolation and segregation
A separate short report provides a summary of some of the key findings from the
larger technical report including:
• An analysis of neighbourhoods
• Examples of indices of segregation and isolation and how they changed over
time in each area between these neighbourhoods. Indicies are contained on age,
ethnicity, migration, occupation, economic activity, illness and qualifications.
The results demonstrate both that robust statistics can be derived for these
areas and can be used to reveal changes which are of social significance. The
summary report highlights ways in which the populations along these transects
appear to be diverging over time. This research does not answer the questions of
what changes are most important to measure and how they should best be measured
and interpreted. It serves to illustrate what could technically be achieved
nationally. The most important policy question arising from this work is - given
that we can now relatively easily measure how the characteristics of the
populations of large neighbourhoods have been changing over the last three
decades across England and Wales – on what changes should we concentrate study
the most and why?
The short summary of the full technical report describes the methods, areas and
measures used in the work and have highlighted some of the social changes that
have taken place along these transects which are perhaps of greatest interest.
We should not be surprised to find that as society has become more polarised
socially, that polarisation is expressed geographically along three routes
specifically not chosen deliberately to highlight such processes. Although each
route travels from near a city centre to the suburbs, we have simply travelled
into the local authority district to the south of each. Thus very similar
patterns of change should be expected across the UK, albeit with interesting
variations in each place and no completely simple uniformity in most patterns.
Because we have only studied three areas we cannot say from this work that the
population of the UK, England and Wales, or even London as a whole has become
more or less socially polarised at a ‘neighbourhood’ level but it would be
extremely surprising if this were not the case and we have presented here
methods that could be used to measure such changes nationally. We have also
highlighted those aspects of demography, economic activity, and social status
for which geographical polarisation is probably most clear; and have tried to
suggest that a long term perspective, going back preferably at least thirty
years, is necessary to realise that these are generally steady long term changes
which are occurring within our towns and cities.
There are potentially many implications for ODPM from this work. At a very
simple level the comparison of social statistics by local authority boundaries
could be argued to be highly problematic if used to single out particular local
authorities as performing ‘well’ or ‘badly’ by any measure. That is because, in
the three example areas used here each is bisected by a local authority boundary
and each boundary tends to lie on or near the point where the transects change
from being areas in which some social groups are becoming more concentrated to
areas where other groups are now more likely to live than in the past. This is
true by age, by economic status such as whether people are retired or
permanently sick, by occupational and industrial categorisations of people, by
how house prices have changed over time and in general by where the population
is becoming relatively more or less wealthy, more or less transient, and more or
relatively less qualified. Along each of these transects for many aspects of
living in Britain there are both generally smooth transitions between areas and
regular patterns to social changes over time. People are becoming sorted out in
space by large neighbourhoods in many ways more neatly than they were before.
Increasingly, local authorities will be serving very different populations to
their neighbouring authorities as a result. There appears, at least for the
transects studied here, to have been no abatement to the general rise in social
polarisation that has been ongoing across Britain at these spatial scales since
at least 1971.