Observer column: 04 October 2019
Every four years, the government publishes its Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD). This uses a range of measures, including unemployment, child poverty, income, health, housing conditions and education, to give an overall deprivation 'score'. These scores are calculated for each neighbourhood (known as a Lower Super Output Area) in England - these are quite small, with around 34,000 of them in England, 53 of them in Hastings. This week, the latest figures were issued.
The IMD figures show how each neighbourhood in the country compares to all the others. So it's not an absolute measure of deprivation, it's a measure of how we're doing compared to everyone else. On the overall 'rank' measure at a local authority level, Hastings has fallen from the 20th most deprived local authority in England, to the 13th most deprived. Within Hastings, 70% of our neighbourhoods are relatively more deprived than they were in 2015, with 16 in the most deprived ten percent in England. The neighbourhoods where deprivation has increased most significantly are in West St Leonards. The neighbourhoods showing the biggest decreases in deprivation are in the West Hill area.
Overall, the difference between the most deprived and least deprived neighbourhoods has slightly decreased. In 2015, our most deprived neighbourhood was Broomgrove Estate, the 89th most deprived in the country. Our least deprived was the neighbourhood around Little Ridge Avenue, the 25,585th most deprived. In 2019, these are still our most and least deprived neighbourhoods, but are now ranked 147 and 23,407 respectively. Most increases in deprivation are in the previously less deprived neighbourhoods. Decreases in deprivation are most pronounced in neighbourhoods around Hastings and St Leonards town centres.
But the overall trend is still in the wrong direction - made worse by the fact that the IMD tends to underestimate deprivation in coastal towns, because it includes air quality and access to open spaces (which includes beaches) in the individual measures.
It will require more research to get to the bottom of which measures are having the most significant impact on the IMD for Hastings neighbourhoods, but it's not difficult to understand why deprivation has continued to increase here. Underinvestment in transport infrastructure, and slow journey times to London and pretty much everywhere else, put off major employers from relocating here - we know that from national surveys Hastings Council has commissioned in the past. Coupled to that, a lack of affordable housing, nine years of austerity and the early roll-out of Universal Credit in Hastings have forced people into homelessness and poverty.
On the surface, Hastings has shown significant improvements that are clear to see: an established reputation as a cultural and creative centre, a regenerated seafront, an increasingly diverse community. But our underlying problems remain, and are clearly indicated in the IMD: poor health, poor educational attainment, low skills, and a lack of employment opportunities. The council and the community can, and do, make Hastings exciting, vibrant, and colourful, through our myriad festivals, events, attractions and one-off projects funded from competitive grants. But solving these deep, underlying problems requires changes in policy at a national level, with serious funding to rebuild our local infrastructure and invest in our local communities. Hastings continues to be a wonderful place to live, work and visit. But we need to be given the opportunity for all our citizens to thrive, and end the poverty and deprivation that has blighted our borough for too long.
Council Leader's column