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Regeneration's impact on deprivation

Cities which focus on labour mobility offer the best hope for regenerating deprived areas by 2040 – but mobility brings gentrification

Regeneration's impact on deprivation

Around the world, cities are well known for co-locating the richest and the poorest members of our society in close proximity. The economic power of cities leads to higher levels of growth, higher wealth and a more valuable capital stock. But that wealth may not be very evenly distributed, and the lure of the city’s wealth may attract poorer people looking to improve their income and prospects. The very centre of London, for example, has the highest levels of rough sleeping anywhere in the UK (as we write elsewhere). When new economic migrants can be housed, they tend to end up in the cheaper parts of the city which experience, in general, lower educational, employment and health outcomes.

These geographical disparities are increasingly being mapped – for example Health Scotland demonstrates that, in Glasgow, local life expectancy drops by two years for every stop on the rail line from Jordanhill to Bridgeton.

Figure 1: Life expectancy on the Jordanhill to Bridgeton rail line, Glasgow, 2015

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Source: Health Scotland

Many people move on and move up. But the physical locations of urban deprivation are notoriously difficult to shift. Paul Norman, for example, shows that there is a strong correlation (0.68) between census areas which were among the UK’s most deprived in 1971 and those which were still among the most deprived in 2011. This is not to say that the residents of these areas are not better off – standards of living have definitely improved over this 40-year period. Rather, the study shows that patterns of deprivation change only very slowly – and Norman implies that there was more change in this pattern in the 1970s and 1980s than there was in the 1990s and 2000s.

Figure 2: Correlations between deprivation, 10 years apart

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Source: The Changing Geography of Deprivation in Britain: 1971 to 2011 and Beyond

But there has been change, suggesting that policy interventions can make a difference to city deprivation. In a review of the evidence of effectiveness of regeneration in tackling poverty, Sheffield Hallam University found that regeneration has been more effective in tackling 'non-material' poverty (for example, health) than it has been in reducing 'material' poverty (such as income or employment). They also find that regeneration schemes have created jobs, but these are not always 'additional' and they are often taken up by individuals living outside target areas. And crucially, they find that area-based interventions to tackle worklessness increase the chances of individuals finding jobs but they do not reduce overall levels of worklessness within deprived areas.

Given the difficulty of shifting, dispersing or eradicating zones of deprivation despite some very intensive interventions over the last 20 years, it seems likely that many of the areas which currently exhibit deprivation will continue to do so in 2040.

22_regenerations impact deprivation_pullquote_270x93But there is hope. A 2016 report for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) finds that increasing the connectedness of urban neighbourhoods can have beneficial effects, both to labour and housing markets. JRF found that several hundred neighbourhoods across the UK are particularly poorly connected to both markets, and that in some areas, local conditions have worsened over time in relation to housing and jobs. This is despite some deprived areas being situated very close to large numbers of jobs, and despite the trend towards more working from home and self-employment.

These issues may explain the focus of city authorities on facilitating that mobility – either through providing new transport infrastructure, or travel to work schemes. Bringing the work to the people with good mixed-use planning policies, can also assist.

But even this increase in connection has some political difficulties. Norman’s work shows that it clearly is possible – though very hard work - for a neighbourhood to be ‘upwardly mobile’. But often, there is a fine line between that upward mobility for existing residents and gentrification by newer residents. The provision of shiny new infrastructure connections, and the new development that tends to come with it, is likely to increase demand in an area, push up prices, and change the demographic.

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