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London’s Poverty Profile: how can we best understand differences in poverty across London?

Author: Manny Hothi, Chief Executive, Trust for London

In this blog post, our Director of Policy Manny Hothi talks about the work the Trust has been doing with WPI Economics to compare how London boroughs are performing when it comes to different aspects of poverty and inequality, in time for London Challenge Poverty Week 2020.

What’s the best way to understand how poverty differs across London? This is a question that we have been thinking about with our partners WPI Economics, who produce London’s Poverty Profile (LPP).

With over 100 indicators, LPP provides evidence on and insight into poverty and inequality in London. The data portrays London pre-COVID and will be updated as new data becomes available, allowing us to track the impact of the pandemic.

The volume of data on LPP benefits from some kind of overview. Typically, we’ve ranked local authorities according to how bad the data is on the domains we have been measuring. This proved to be very popular. Campaigners liked the rankings because it would strengthen the case they are making if a borough had bad statistics.  I think local authorities had mixed feelings, depending on where they were ranked!

This year we have changed the way we make comparisons between boroughs.

Before, we would rank boroughs from highest to lowest on a group of indicators related to housing, education or health. Whilst this is simple, it can mask important nuance. For example, if the worst borough for poverty had a poverty rate of 28%, but the best had a poverty rate of 27.8% - is that something the ‘best’ borough should be happy about? If you were working in the ‘worst’ borough, you might be a little aggrieved for being singled out when the difference is so small.

To address this, we have decided to measure how well each borough does in comparison to the average of all boroughs. This gives us the opportunity to see, at a glance, which boroughs are doing better or worse - in a statistically significant way - than the London average.

A tile comparing London boroughs on different poverty and inequality indicators

In the graphic above (which you can properly see here) the red tiles show where a borough is doing meaningfully worse than the London average. The dark blue tiles show where a borough is doing meaningfully better than the average, and the grey tiles are where a borough is about average. 

This graphic provides a useful overview of poverty in London. It leads us naturally to look for patterns or oddities.

Here are some things that stood out to me:

  • It’s worth stating the obvious: boroughs that do worse on overall poverty usually do badly on several of the other indicators. Brent stands out as an outlier on this. It has a poverty rate similar to Islington’s, but does much better on most of the other indicators. 
  • Hackney, Islington and Newham are boroughs where the poverty rate is meaningfully worse than the London average, but their unemployment rates are not. 
  • There are a few boroughs that are doing about average or better than average, but with single indicators where they are doing worse than average. For example, Kingston upon Thames does better than the average on most things, but has the highest rate for infant mortality in London. Interestingly, Havering has a significantly lower than average poverty rate, but significantly higher than average proportion of residents without qualifications.

This overview is designed to help you examine the dynamics of poverty across London, including between and within boroughs. We hope it helps you to ask further questions, explore new data, and ultimately reinforce the case you are building for tackling poverty and inequality in London.

London Challenge Poverty Week 2020