I've lived in London for nearly six years. Two of those years were spent living in Finsbury Park - a not-so-leafy inner city area in North London. One of the interesting things about the building I lived in, if you're thinking geographically (which, let's face it, I always am) is it sits pretty much bang on the boundary of three London boroughs - Islington, Haringey and Hackney.
My Finsbury Park digs
For a lot of us, administrative boundaries like boroughs basically dictate what colour bins you have and who ignores your strongly worded emails about potholes. But living here, I thought I saw something slightly more tangible.
My flat looked over the eastern side of Finsbury Park, a large open space in North London. Living close to a green space in a big city is always a plus, but Finsbury Park isn't one without its challenges. As well as the litter problem which now feels endemic in England, Finsbury Park is not a stranger to anti-social behaviour, knife crime and violence against women.
When I was a local resident, my theory behind this was that because Finsbury Park really serves three boroughs, maybe none of them see it as 'their' park, and therefore not 'their' problem to fix. Any investment in the park wouldn't benefit just their residents, so why should they foot the bill?
This got me thinking whether 'boundary effects' could be something that extend to more than parks? Might people who live on boundaries of local authorities be more likely to experience deprivation, for example? It would make sense when you think not just politically, but geographically. Often borough boundaries are defined by major roads where air and noise pollution are high. There can also be natural boundaries such as parks, lakes and rivers. Investing in services such as GPs and schools near these barriers may benefit fewer people as fewer people live in their catchments, or can cross these boundaries.
So that's the pre-amble, now for the amble. I'm going to be looking at whether residents living in London experience a higher level of deprivation when bordering a local authority. Sorry for the London focus but a) I live here so I'm interested, and b) it has 32 local authority districts covering one urban area, which gives us a good sample size and a lot of boundaries to work with.
England's Indices of Multiple Deprivation
"The Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) is the official measure of relative deprivation in England and is part of a suite of outputs that form the Indices of Deprivation (IoD). It follows an established methodological framework in broadly defining deprivation to encompass a wide range of an individual’s living conditions."
- Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government
The IMD consists of seven "domains":
Income: the proportion of the population experiencing deprivation due to low income.
Employment: the proportion of the working age population involuntarily excluded from the labour market.
Education: the lack of attainment and skills.
Health: risk of premature death and impairment to quality of life through poor physical health.
Crime: risk of personal and material victimisation.
Barriers to housing and services: the physical and financial accessibility of housing and local services.
Living environment: the quality of the local environment, both in and out of doors.
The smallest geography IMDs are calculated for are lower super output areas (LSOA - a type of small administrative area in England). Each LSOA is scored on each of the seven domains - the scores are combined, and the areas are ranked from least to most relatively deprived. Most commonly, these are visualised as deciles like below - 1 being the most deprived and 10 the least.
So is boundary deprivation a thing?
To understand whether this is an effect of boundaries on deprivation, I grouped all of the London LSOAs into two groups - those which are adjacent to borough boundaries, and those which aren't. I mapped these out and then worked out the percentage of London residents in each deprivation decile for each group to see how they differed.
The results may surprise you, if you'd be surprised by the results not showing anything interesting at all - because they don't.
If boundary deprivation was a real phenomenon, we'd be seeing higher values in the "boundary" graphs for more deprived deciles - i.e. more red. But there isn't.
This analysis shows that there is no really significant difference between the deprivation experienced between those living on a borough edge and those living inside it. For every area of affluence along the leafy stretches of the upstream Thames in Richmond and Kingston, there are the more deprived areas downstream in the East London Docklands. And there are plenty of people in the "middle" too.
It's shame really, because you've read all these words and the answer is "no," but at least now we know.
Is that it?
I don't think it is, actually.
While the answer to my very scientific "is boundary deprivation a thing?" question was a no, there clearly is something interesting happening around some of the boundaries. Look at the boundary of Waltham Forest ("WF") and Redbridge in North London, or Lewisham and Bromley to the South. Even in a city as inequitable as London, you'd normally expect a gradual-ish change in deprivation over space, as adjacent areas would be able to access similar services and amenities. But in these areas - and across these boundaries - the change is less gradual and more of a jump. So I think that might be something I investigate next - where the greatest 'jumps' in deprivation differences are, and why that might be.
Thanks for reading - I hope you enjoyed my completely non-groundbreaking bit of analysis!