Observer column: 06 November 2015
Recently, the 2015 Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) was published. This is a complex measure, comprised of different 'domains', each representing different aspects of deprivation: crime, health, poverty, unemployment, environment, and so on. These measures are calculated at the level of small neighbourhoods called Lower Super Output Areas (LSOAs). There are 52 such LSOAs in Hastings, and 33,000 in England. The IMD ranks each of these LSOAs against all the other English LSOAs, for each of the domains, and for the overall IMD.
For Hastings, there are mixed messages in the IMD. Generally, the picture is good. Most parts of Hastings score well in some domains - for example, crime is relatively low, particularly in residential areas, and environmental quality is good. Some parts of Hastings (Conquest ward, for example) are in the least deprived 25% across England. Two-thirds of the LSOAs in Hastings have improved, in terms of their rank against everywhere else. And the average improvement per LSOA across Hastings is around 1,000 rank places.
The 'most improved' areas are Old Hastings and the 'outer fringes' of town, but with significant improvements in parts of urban St Leonards, too. These improvements are mostly due to increasing incomes, lower unemployment, and better housing conditions. Hastings has, in general, become more prosperous, has become more attractive as a place for new businesses to relocate to, and for Londoners in particular, looking for a better quality of life. And local people have benefited, with more jobs and lower unemployment.
However, within this picture of improvement, there are some underlying problems. In LSOAs with a lot of private rented housing, poor housing conditions are depressing the overall score. This is especially true for areas around Hastings and St Leonards town centres, and the West Hill. The council's selective licensing scheme will help here, bringing up poor quality properties to a legal standard through associated inspections, although the supply of good, affordable housing remains woefully inadequate.
But for employment and income deprivation, a few areas stand out. Parts of St Leonards, and social housing estates in Hollington, Tressell, Baird and Ore all rank in the most deprived 3% nationally. Some of these (in Baird, Ore and Tressell in particular) also show significant deprivation in education and training skills.
Before 2010, the government provided special 'Area Based Grants' to tackle deprivation in these areas, but these were cut after the 2010 general election. Since then, there has been an assortment of government and other initiatives aimed at improving training and access to employment across the town, but levels of deprivation remain stubbornly high in these poorer areas.
So we should celebrate the 'whole town' improvements, and the benefits regeneration is bringing. But we can't ignore the persistent deprivation in some areas. These problems are social rather than structural - for the most part, it's not about demolishing and rebuilding, it's about tackling low skills, poor educational achievement, and access to employment. And we must continue to support employers to provide apprenticeships, training, and decent, well-paid jobs. So we'll work with partners to plan what's to be done, looking at good practice elsewhere, and building the arguments to get funding for effective, targeted schemes. It's not enough to celebrate the successes of our town, although there are plenty of them. We mustn't turn our backs on those who are most in need.