The BBC published a series of maps a few days ago that show how resilient the local authority areas of England will be to cuts in public spending. Areas have been ranked based on data representing aspects of Business, People, Community and Place. The BBC's headline conclusion is that industrial areas in the North East and Midlands are most vulnerable, and so they seem to be. But in playing around with the maps, I noticed something else interesting.
The maps let you look at the overall picture of resilience, with more vulnerable local authorities coloured in a darker shade. They also let you look at each of the four sectors, and the individual factors that make up those sectors. By flicking between maps, you can compare shadings and see how closely these sectors and factors are related.
As you might expect, the maps for overall resilience and the four broad sectors that make up the overall rankings look pretty similar. Then I looked at the maps for the factors that make up the Community sector. These are 'claimant count', 'vulnerable to long-term unemployment', 'vulnerable to declines in disposable income' and 'social cohesion'. The first three are probably self-explanatory; the last is based on survey data on the question 'do neighbours look out for each other?'.
The maps for three of these factors are very similar to each other, and indeed the maps for Community and overall resilience. But one, 'vulnerable to declines in disposable income' is completely different – across most of the country, the local authority rankings look as though they have been reversed.
There are probably lots of explanations for these similarities and differences, but this is what occurred to me. Social ties, and weak ones in particular, have been shown to help people find work and avoid long-term unemployment, and thus to avoid claiming Jobseekers' Allowance. The similarity between the maps for social cohesion, claimant count, vulnerability to long-term unemployment and overall resilience to cuts seems like a graphic demonstration of this link.
What about the stark difference between vulnerability to decline in disposable income and the other factors? Perhaps people who are most vulnerable in this sense are those who have most disposable income in the first place. If that is the case, they might lose some spending money over the next few years, but still have enough to ‘shield’ them from the effects of cuts.
The inverse link with social cohesion is interesting here. It might simply be that more affluent people live in closer communities. Or it might be that greater social cohesion somehow means people have more disposable income. Or that living in a strong community will help to shield people from the effects of cuts, despite their reduced disposable income, perhaps because community members are more likely to pull together to access what they need. Or a mix of the three.
To me, all this points to the many benefits of increasing social cohesion, especially in the current circumstances. This is what the RSA’s Connected Communities project is all about. But are there other interpretations of the maps? I’d be interested to hear what you all think…