Friday, 14 December 2012

Census and council figures reveal Bristol’s sharp divide

The Census isn’t merely the release of a dreary set of statistics, or a chance for the right-wing media to whip us up into another national panic about how many more immigrants we’re being overrun by. It allows us to gaze into the not-too-distant past, to reflect on where we are as a society today, and to predict where we’ll be ten years down the line. As you may have seen, Tuesday saw the release of another batch of stats from the 2011 Census. The first wave of facts and figures were published in July.

In this post, I want to move beyond these headline findings, and look at another set of figures that merit close scrutiny.  Recent reports from the council have shown up some stark inequalities in Bristol, which I expect to be echoed when the full data for the 2011 Census is released. For example, compare the city’s most populous ward, Lawrence Hill, with its least populous, Stoke Bishop. We already know from figures out last month that Lawrence Hill’s 18,942 residents greatly exceed the city’s 12,235 ward average. Stoke Bishop comes in below the average, with 9,269 residents.
According to the Census, Bristol’s population as a whole grew by 38,000 - or around 9.8% - over the last decade. A much smaller increase, in fact, than I’d been expecting. (For comparison’s sake, the 2001 Census saw a tiny fall in the numbers living in Bristol: 390,000, just over 2,000 fewer than in 1991).

The latest council stats reveal that Lawrence Hill has seen a 44% increase (5,763) in its population, the second highest rise in the city, and with under-30s making up half the ward. In Stoke Bishop, under-30s make up a similar proportion (46%), but this number is swelled by the large volume of students who live there.
To get beyond the headlines, one has to delve into the findings of the council’s Neighbourhood Partnership Profiles. Introduced in 2008, NPPs group together two or three wards, and give a comprehensive breakdown of local concerns: anything from health and wellbeing, deprivation, to fear of crime. It is only when you carefully examine this document that the huge divisions in Bristol become apparent.

Whereas the problems identified in the neighbourhoods of Stoke Bishop, Henleaze and Westbury-on-Trym include high domestic energy use and above-average car use; in Ashley, Easton and Lawrence Hill, residents have to contend with above-average levels of deprivation, poorly insulated homes with health and safety risks, and problems with noisy neighbours and drunk and rowdy behaviour, to name just three. In one part of the city, over-consumption is the main issue; in the other, the issues are more about quality of life and basic safety.
Lawrence Hill is the most deprived electoral ward in the South West of England, and belongs to the most deprived 10% in the whole country.  60% of all children living there do so in poverty. Fewer than 4% of children live in poverty in Stoke Bishop.

Over 3,500 crimes were recorded in 2009/10 in Lawrence Hill, at an offence rate of 204.2 per 1,000 population. (A significant reduction from 2001/02 (420.5 per 1000). This compares to just 291, or 28.4 per 1000, in Stoke Bishop for the same period. Unsurprisingly, fewer than half of Lawrence Hill residents feel safe in their area after dark, compared to 75% of those living in Stoke Bishop.
In 2011, only 30% of 16-year-olds in Lawrence Hill got 5 GSCE’s at grades A*-C, including English and Maths. In Stoke Bishop the figure was more than treble that, at 94%. The council’s figures don’t take into account the type of schools that these pupils attended, although one can probably guess. Either way, Lawrence Hill’s score falls way below the national average achieved by state schools.

As of last year, a quarter of Lawrence Hill’s residents were in receipt of out-of-work benefits, double the Bristol average. These include such things as jobseeker’s allowance and incapacity benefit. The figure for Stoke Bishop is a paltry 2.2%.
Why am I bombarding you with all these statistics? For four reasons:

1.      Firstly, when people say we live in a divided city, these are some of the things they are talking about. It isn’t hyperbole, or empty political rhetoric designed to win votes.

2.      Secondly, this pattern of inequality isn’t a recent phenomenon. It’s been with us for a while, and therefore deserves more attention than it has received up to now.

3.      Thirdly, much of this deprivation, crime and underachievement take place elsewhere. That is, in areas most Bristolians rarely venture into. Most of us probably only see our own wards and the shopping areas around the city centre. So perhaps a little bit more media attention is justified.

4.      Finally, addressing some of these issues should form a large part of Mayor Ferguson’s brief. I’m all for shiny new stadiums and arenas and displays of cultural muscle, but successfully tackling inequality is the thing that will really change our city for the better. Everything else is just cosmetic.  
This article was first published on thisisbristol on Friday 14th December 2012


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