UK Deprivation by Constituency and Voting Patterns in England and NI

Introduction

Deprivation and inequality have been regular themes on Progressive Pulse but a very interesting visualisation of deprivation by constituency has been published online by Prof. Alasdair Rae of the University of Sheffield (@undertheraedar on Twitter), displayed in Fig. 1. There is more on the underlying methodology and data here. This is a high-resolution image, click and zoom to explore.

Fig.1 UK Constituencies by Deprivation click on image to enlarge.

The image is colour coded by the Party who won the seat in the 2017 GE. There is a striking preponderance of Labour seats in more deprived constituencies and Tory seats in the less deprived. The correlation is high, but the causation far more difficult to ascertain.

The most deprived constituency in the UK is Belfast West. Indeed, 3 of the 10 most deprived constituencies are in Northern Ireland. The other two being Belfast North and Foyle. At the other end of the spectrum are North East Hampshire (the least deprived constituency in the UK) and the only Labour Seat in the top ten: Sheffield Hallam. Nearly all the seats in the least deprived seats (column 10) are in England. There are a few Scottish seats such as West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine and Gordon.

The deprivation patterns are different in the four constituent parts of the UK. Different dynamics are also in play. This post will look at England and Northern Ireland.

England

In England, most of the more deprived constituencies are in the North and Midlands and the least deprived in the South. This is no surprise. The North-South divide is universally accepted, though there are arguments as to where the true North begins. However, there are pockets of deprivation in the South and pockets of affluence in the North.

Sheffield as previously mentioned has Hallam, the 8th least deprived constituency in the country. It contains many of the wealthiest suburbs in the city and also has a large student population from both Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam Universities. This was Nick Clegg’s constituency before the student backlash against tuition fees, which is generally considered to have cost him his seat.

Sheffield also has some of the most deprived constituencies in the country with Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough being the 13th most deprived.

Parts of the south and of London fare badly, such as Tottenham and Barking. There are also deprived cities in the south such as Plymouth Devonport.

Another split is between “Shire” and “Urban” seats. Northumberland is an interesting example, containing two “Shire” seats (Berwick on Tweed and Hexham) and two urban ones (Wansbeck and Blyth Valley). Both the Urban seats are Labour-held and in the 3rd column, well below average. Both of the Rural seats are above average with Berwick coming in the 6th column and Hexham (my own constituency) in the 8th column. Both are Tory seats.

Deprivation seems to go hand in hand with the decimation of the industrial base. Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough for example used to have a vast steel-making industry, now almost gone. Wansbeck and Blyth Valley are former major coal-mining areas which have never really recovered from the closing of the pits.

In England, causation is complex. It is certainly true that more deprived areas tend to vote Labour, but there’s little evidence that voting Labour causes deprivation. The correlation may simply be that Labour values are more attractive to the most deprived in society.

Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland is traditionally divided economically into East and West of the River Bann. It has an East-West divide, rather than a North-South divide. For example, nearly all the motorway and railway stations are east of the Bann. Of the 54 railway stations in NI, only 3 are West of the Bann.

Fig 2. Map 5 from Steve Bradley

In Fig. 2 (Map 5 from Steve Bradley), it is striking how much better transport infrastructure is in unionist constituencies. It is also clear looking at the constituencies table (Fig. 1) that, on average, the SF seats tend to be more deprived than those of the DUP. Six of SF’s seats are in the most deprived two columns, whereas five of the DUP seats make it to columns 4 and 5. There is a high correlation between deprivation levels and religion with Catholic constituencies more deprived than Protestant ones.

NI contains the most deprived constituency in the UK: Belfast West. This is largely based around the Falls Road, a staunchly Catholic area. It also contains three of the five wards of the Shankill, staunchly Protestant, and a tinderbox during the Troubles. It is the safest seat in NI and currently held by Sinn Féin. It is also the birthplace of Prof. Michael Dougan (Liverpool Law) who regularly features in PP and is very proud of his working-class roots.

There is a very deep conviction in NI’s nationalist community that money has been cynically, and unfairly, directed towards Protestant and unionist areas, and withheld from nationalist ones. This was certainly the case in the past.

Conclusion

In England and Northern Ireland, there is a strong correlation between deprivation and voting left-wing. In England, this is largely Labour, in NI Sinn Féin, which was considerably to the left of Labour but now more in line since Corbyn has become leader.

In England, there is scant evidence that voting Labour causes deprivation. Under Thatcher, however, policy was deliberately directed to weakening the power of the unionised workforce, in particular, the miners, steelworkers and dockers. These industries were decimated. Unionised workers tend to be very strong Labour supporters. This most certainly increased deprivation in Labour areas. It is ironic that it is these very voters and constituencies that Johnson is trying to tempt over to the Tories.

In NI tribalism is far more deeply ingrained. The DUP, in particular, shows absolutely no sign of reaching out to Nationalists or ‘Others’ and any pretence to govern for, or represent, NI as a whole is a transparent sham (though some Tories seem to fall for it). The NI executive and assembly, however, has been suspended for over 1000 days and little governance is happening at all.

Catholic/Nationalist voters will find it almost impossible to vote Unionist, particularly the DUP. What will happen however, through rapid demographic change, is that Nationalists will be in an ever-increasing plurality with respect to Unionists.

Some of this change may be observable later today as the GE election results come out. Will the Tories manage to attract Labour voters in more deprived areas? Will demographic change in NI cause DUP losses?

There has not been time to discuss Scotland or Wales properly, but it would be interesting to compare the Aberdeen area to the more deprived Glasgow constituencies and in Wales the North/South divide.