Understanding communities and what contributes to them being ‘Left behind’ – A case study

choropleth map of Essex County and its Community Needs Index scores

This case study looks at a consultancy review project commissioned by Essex County Council to help them define and identify ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods.

In an earlier blog we examined what it means to be ‘left behind’ – how areas with similar levels of deprivation may score significantly differently in terms of Community Need. 

A deprived area may also lack an engaged community, places to meet, and poor connectivity, both in terms of transport and digital, internet connectedness. Areas that exhibit these characteristics can be deemed as ‘left behind’ and as a result may present far worse outcomes than other areas of deprivation.

ECC recognised that to affect meaningful change and address the challenges felt by these communities, it is key that the community is engaged, active and invested. None of which is possible when communities face a lack of connectivity and spaces to meet. 

In order to capture areas lacking in social infrastructure we developed a Community Needs Index, (CNI). As part of our work with Essex we have produced an updated CNI which begins to take into account some of the social changes that occurred following the pandemic. 

The Essex review looks at the extent of community need in the context of the towns and neighbourhoods in Essex. Largely using our Local Insight tool, the review looks at the drivers and predictors of that need and the extent to which ‘left-behind’ areas in Essex experience worse outcomes than other neighbourhoods in the county.

The Review has three distinct phases:

Phase 1 Review: 

Understanding community need in Essex and the drivers that contribute towards this.

Our objective in this phase was to pull together a contextual story out of the socio-economic data, in order to understand the extent of community need in Essex and the key factors that contribute toward high levels of need in communities across the county.

 The key questions we sought to answer in this stage include:

  • Where are the highest concentrations of need?
  • What is need like relative to other comparator areas?
  • Whether certain areas of Essex experience particular challenges in terms of density of community and civic assets, infrastructure and connectivity, presence of an active third sector or community participation?
  • What is the relationship between need and deprivation?
  • How are community needs changing?

In order to address these questions, the Phase 1 report explores the performance of Essex on the key components (domains and underlying indicators) of the Essex Community Needs Index 2020. This allows ECC to determine the extent to which neighbourhoods in the county experience challenges in terms of access to civic assets, connectivity and community engagement.

 

Phase 2 Review: Understand the factors that might cause a place to be ‘left behind’

 The objective in this phase was to identify whether there is a particular set of socio-demographic characteristics that may contribute towards an area being at greater risk of being identified as ‘left-behind’. The purpose of this analysis is to identify risk factors to help inform where early interventions and additional support may help prevent further areas in Essex from being identified as ‘left-behind’.

In order to address this question, we examined a range of socio-economic indicators to determine whether there are notable differences in the demographic and social make-up of ‘left-behind’ areas compared with non-left-behind areas. Where we have identified notable differences, we have then incorporated these indicators into a predictive model to examine the extent to which these differences contribute to areas being identified as ‘left-behind’.

The techniques are based on identifying a set of input indicators to predict the ‘outcome’ (or ‘dependent’, ‘to-be-predicted’ variables) for the cases, in this case, whether or not an area is ‘left-behind’.

 The model we adopted is a logistic regression model which predicts the odds to which an identified set of inputted socio-economic variables predict an outcome, with the aim of identifying the socio-economic factors that have the biggest impact on levels of need in the area.

A multi-staged approach has been applied to develop the model:

  • Identify suggested set of predictive variables to input
  • Testing input predictor indicators to see the extent to which they predict whether an area is ‘left-behind’
  • Summarise the factors that have biggest impact
  • Identify areas in Essex with high scores on significant factors – that are at greater risk of being ‘left-behind’.

 

Phase 3 Review: Understanding the socio-economic  impact on ‘left behind’ communities in Essex

Our objective in this phase was to identify particular challenges in ‘left behind’ areas, compared with similarly deprived non-left behind areas in Essex. This would allow us to determine whether ‘left behind’ areas are falling further behind similar neighbourhoods on specific health, education, housing or labour market outcomes.

 The key questions we are seeking to answer in this stage include:

  • How does the population profile in ‘left-behind’ areas of Essex differ from other similarly deprived areas and other parts of the county?
  • What are the key deprivation challenges in ‘left-behind’ areas of Essex and how do these compare with other similar areas that are not ‘left-behind’?
  • How does the housing stock differ between ‘left-behind’ areas and other areas? Do these areas experience challenges concerning accessing suitable housing?
  • What are the key economic characteristics in ‘left-behind’ areas in terms of the jobs that people do and how does this differ from other similarly deprived areas?
  • Is there greater evidence of health inequalities in ‘left-behind’ areas relative to other comparator areas?
  • Is there evidence of skills and qualification gaps in ‘left-behind’ areas relative to other comparator areas?
  • Are there differences in overall levels of crime in ‘left-behind’ areas compared to other similarly deprived areas?

 

What conclusions did we draw from our review?

Phase 1 conclusions 

The evidence in this review suggests Essex has experienced a slight increase in relative community need between 2019 and 2020, although this is smaller than across other comparator counties. 

The picture within Essex is mixed, with eight of the twelve Local Authorities, nine of the seventeen largest towns and 51% of wards experiencing a relative increase in need, while the remainder experienced a fall in relative need over the period. Evidence points to some neighbourhoods within Essex being disproportionately impacted by community need challenges. More than one-fifth of wards ranked among the 10% in England with the highest overall community need. 

Community needs challenges are greatest in the coastal communities and in outlying housing estates lacking in services and amenities in the post-war new towns – most notably Basildon.

However, different areas of Essex experience different challenges (in other words there are different factors which contribute towards high levels of community need in these areas). 

Areas of South Essex along the Thames gateway such as Basildon, Rochford, South Benfleet and Canvey Island are relatively lacking in civic assets. Towns along the Tendring coast are more likely to be experiencing poor connectivity (linked to a lack of job opportunities and poor access to services relative to levels of car ownership locally). By contrast, the post-war new towns (e.g. Harlow and Basildon) are relatively well connected but experience particular challenges around low levels of engagement and lack of third sector activity. We have also found examples where these dimensions intersect, for example the lack of green, sport and leisure assets in Canvey Island is likely to be linked to low levels of sport and leisure participation in this area. The poor scores on various measures of loneliness in Harlow are likely to be related to lack of civic engagement and self-perceived strength of social relationships.

Therefore, addressing community challenges is likely to require a different approach in different areas. There are also likely to be a different set of socio-economic circumstances which contribute to the decline in social infrastructure in different parts of the county. The next phase of the research will provide an analysis of the factors that might cause a place to be ‘left behind’ and have high levels of community need.

 

Phase 2 conclusions 

By far the most technical of the 3 phases, phase 2 modelling returned a set of significant factors associated with risk of an area becoming ‘left behind’ and therefore can help in predicting the probability of being ‘left behind’.  

The strongest individual level predictors were the unemployment rate among older people (aged 50+) – areas with high scores on this factor were 96% more likely to be ‘left-behind’. Another important risk factor was children with a limiting long-term illness, where areas with high values were 60% more likely to be ’left-behind’. By contrast, areas with a high ratio of in-commuters (a larger workplace population than a resident population) were 66% less likely to be ‘left-behind’, while those with a high proportion of degree educated residents were more than 25% less likely to be ‘left-behind’.

We can conclude that the following factors exert a significant influence on whether an area is likely to be identified as ‘left-behind’

  •   Unemployment rate among older people (aged 50+) = more likely to be ‘left-behind’
  •   Children (aged 0-15) with a limiting long-term illness = more likely to be ‘left-behind’
  •   Areas with a high ratio of in-commuters = less likely to be ‘left-behind’
  •   Areas with a high proportion of people holding degree or higher level qualifications = less likely to be ‘left-behind’.

 

Phase 3 conclusions 

To address the questions posed by the Phase 3 report we explored the performance of the 12 ‘left-behind’ areas in Essex on the key socio-economic and demographic indicators, benchmarked against similarly deprived neighbourhoods and other areas of the county. This allowed us to determine the extent to which ‘left-behind’ neighbourhoods in the county experience specific and distinct challenges and characteristics compared to areas that are not lacking in civic assets, strong connections and an active engaged community.

Essex ‘left-behind’ areas are identified as experiencing the dual disadvantage of both high levels of community need and high levels of deprivation. The report examined the extent of these deprivation challenges and explored whether those areas in Essex which have high community need have experienced worse trajectories on key deprivation measures than other areas that were identified as similarly deprived in 2010.

The evidence from the report is that ‘left-behind’ areas in Essex now experience markedly worse outcomes on a range of socio-economic measures than areas which share many similar characteristics, and which were similarly deprived on the Index of Multiple Deprivation, but which were not identified as ‘left-behind’. This can be seen in the higher levels of overall deprivation, greater levels of wider worklessness, lower levels of educational attainment, a lack of affordable housing, slower rates of population growth, worse health outcomes and higher levels of crime experienced in these communities. 

There is also a greater prevalence of vulnerable groups in these neighbourhoods including households with multiple and complex needs, carers, lone pensioners, lone parents and people with long-term health conditions, as well as those experiencing long term barriers to employment. It is precisely these groups that would benefit from an active voluntary and community sector which is less prevalent in these areas.

This lack of social infrastructure is likely to be a key contributory factor in the relative poor performance of these areas over the last few years, evidenced by the growing gap between ‘left-behind’ areas and their comparators. ‘Left behind’ areas in Essex have experienced faster rises in unemployment and corresponding falls in the number of jobs available locally. Lack of infrastructure plays an important role here, with fewer businesses operating locally and a notably lower jobs density; while the lack of social infrastructure is likely to act as a barrier to attracting more high skilled jobs or employers to relocate to the area, which reinforces the cycle of decline.

When setting out to level up after the pandemic it is vital that decisions are made based on well documented and evidenced reasoning. A report such as the one we carried out for ECC highlights the extent to which ‘left-behind’ areas experience greater disadvantage than other areas as a whole. It is the very nature of being ‘left behind’ that contributes to the continuation of being ‘left behind’.

Whilst our findings from the phase 1 report emphasised that the individual neighbourhoods experienced different community challenges, when looked at across the entirety of the report we see, each of the 12 ‘left-behind’ areas in Essex have high levels of need across all of the themes explored. This suggests that the challenges experienced in these communities are both broad and deep and will require additional interventions and support to ensure that the areas do not fall further behind over the next 10 years.

 

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