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In late September the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) released an updated version of its Index of Multiple Deprivation, to be known as IMD2019. This replaces a version which was produced four years earlier. Once again, the Index has been created with help from Oxford Consultants for Social Inclusion and Deprivation.org.
In essence, the IMD is a summary measure of the level of deprivation amongst the population living in any geographical or administrative area. That summary measure or score is a relative measure, showing whether the extent of deprivation in an area is above or below the England average.
The IMD has been widely criticised, over the years, by rural commentators and interest groups, not least because it focuses on identifying places or neighbourhoods with a concentration of deprived residents and households. This typically works when describing larger urban settlements, where the housing market tends to sort populations into more affluent and more deprived clusters. Inner city neighbourhoods and city-edge housing estates are classic examples.
To some extent this approach also works in rural towns, when applied at a small spatial level of LSOAs (see below). This can identify pockets of deprivation. However, in villages and smaller rural settlements the IMD fails. The typical pattern here is scattered deprivation, with deprived households interspersed with more affluent households. What the IMD gives is a fairly meaningless deprivation score which is the average of affluence and deprivation.
Rural critics of the IMD have also expressed concern that some of the measures it uses are a better descriptor of urban than of rural deprivation. Others have noted that it relies heavily upon administrative data, such as reported crime and welfare claims. Problematic if rural populations are less likely to report or make a claim. The IMD does, to its credit, include measures of housing affordability and geographic access to services – both headline rural concerns. However, these carry little weight within the overall Index and are mixed in with measures of homelessness and overcrowding.
Technically speaking there are three Indices, though the most frequently used is the IMD. Others measure income deprivation as it affects young and as it affects older people. The IMD is comprised of 39 different statistical indicators, which are grouped into 7 domains. These relate to income, employment, health and disability, education and skills, barriers to housing and services, crime and quality of living environment. The income and employment domains are given most weight, so they make up 45% of the Index.
The IMD gives results for Local Super Output Areas (LSOAs), which are small geographic units drawn up by the Office for National Statistics primarily for the purpose of presenting Population Census results. Each of the 32,844 LSOAs in England covers an area with about 1,500 residents or about 650 households. Whilst their only function is statistical, LSOAs generally align with administrative boundaries. It is also possible to analyse the IMD at a local authority level, for example by measuring the proportion of LSOAs within each authority area that fall within the most deprived 10% LSOAs in England. Somewhat fairer, from a rural perspective, are measures based on the average score or rank position for all LSOAs within any given local authority area.
For the record, the IMD2019 shows that:
Maps in the MHCLG statistical release show that high IMD deprivation scores are to be found in rural areas, for example around The Wash, along the east coast of Lincolnshire and within parts of Northumberland, Cornwall and Somerset.
Given concerns about using the IMD in a rural content, does an updated version of it matter? The truth is surely that it does. The IMD has been widely used in the past to justify needs, target public policies, identify areas eligible for initiatives and assess project funding bids. Such uses go beyond Whitehall Departments, including those like distributors of National Lottery funding. There is little reason to think this situation will change.
In practice, those working with the rural evidence base may find themselves needing to make careful use of the IMD2019, supplementing it with other evidence to reflect local needs and settlement patterns wherever possible. Even if acknowledged by some, they will need to keep restating the particular nature and geography of rural deprivation.
Hyperlinks: MHCLG page for the IMD2019
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