Regional inequality: the utility of many metrics

To measure – political success or anything else – we need to choose the right metrics. It is widely recognised that GDP per capita or average income is not necessarily that useful. A point that must be repeated over and over is that when in comes to wealth and income, it is not the crude average that matters, it is the distribution. The Guardian has published a superb graphic today where we can both look at distributions and choose our own metrics. The focus is mainly about London versus the rest of the England. A point, often made, is what about the extreme inequality within London? Or even, yes average incomes are higher in London but so are average house prices, so may be everything balances out? See comparison below for London and County Durham. For these reasons, monetary metrics and crude averages are not always particularly insightful.


By looking at other metrics that reflect quality of life factors, e.g. depression, we gain additional insight, and in contrast to monetary measures, here crude averages may be sufficient to tell us something important. We could still argue about how to weight different metrics. For example, London does very badly on air quality, but for many of the people of County Durham slightly cleaner air is not much of a consolation, as the graphs below illustrate.



I have argued before that the complete failure of the so-called centre and the ensuing polarization in our politics is far more about inequality of outcomes than the inequality of incomes. We need metric based, evidence based politics, more than ever.


    1. Charles Adams -

      Could be a good unit to characterise regional inequality, although I think keeping track of many metrics as the Guardian article does is even better.

  1. Peter May -

    It is remarkable to me that the rate of depression is so much greater in County Durham than in London and indeed generally higher outside London than in in it. When I lived in London I always missed the sea especially when it took such a long time to get to any! It didn’t make me depressed but it did make me long for Brighton – or even Southend…
    Interestingly on London’s transport spending we are seeing something much closer to a universal basic service. The rest of the UK gets nowhere near.
    I’m also not clear if the y axis has any significance – or perhaps it doesn’t even exist?

    1. Donald Manchester -

      You may have just answered your own question in a sense. Let’s suppose you were depressed in London. What would you do? Yes, you’d get out of there. Depression usually means loss of income, so you move somewhere where rents are more affordable, like County Durham.
      Run the argument the other way, and someone with a lot of moxy and optimism is likely to migrate out of County Durham to a place where they can earn more.
      What we don’t know from the health inequality data is what proportion of it is down to migration effects. Until we do, you can’t use the data to say that the UK isn’t a very good country and also to say that is a problem which you know how to fix, if only you had the money.

      1. Charles Adams -

        We know how to fit the problem – offer people better educational and health outcomes! And it is not a question of money – it is a question of desire, we can afford what we can do.

    2. Charles Adams -

      Good point about transport spend being a kind of UBI. Free public transport for regions that are below median on a range of metrics could be a start. We should look at energy costs too.

      As the dots are stacked the y axis tells us something about the distribution.

  2. Donald Manchester -

    There’s inequality of freedom too. London, by virtue of having 15 times the population of Durham in round numbers, has 15 times the say in what policies and practices take place in Durham than people in Durham do over themselves.
    Devolve more powers, and more freedoms to local authorities. I’d start with smoking in non-food pubs and clubs, the consumption of recreational drugs and sharing premises for the purpose of prostitution. Durham might wish or might not wish to permit any of these, but it would be Durham’s choice, and not that of a big global city 3-5 hours away.
    And then I’d move onto devolving the really big stuff.

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