The kingdom by the sea
22nd July 2021 by Timo Hannay [link]
Update 22nd July 2021: Here is some BBC News coverage of our analysis.
Great Britain is defined by its coastline. Geographically, of course, but also historically (as a former martime superpower), politically (not least in its relations with continental Europe) and culturally (from saucy seaside postcards to scampi and chips). Yet while coastal areas do much to define our nation, from a societal point of view they are in some ways unrepresentative of the country as a whole. As we have written before, they tend to underperform educationally and can often be physically and economically isolated, making them archetypes of left-behind Britain. Representing elements of both national self-assurance and self-doubt, it is perhaps no surprise that coastal communities are of perennial interest, even for those living inland.
This post takes a dive into the socioeconomic characteristics of seaside England. (We've nothing against the other home nations, but don't have access to the same data for them.) Hopefully it will leave you with a sense of how coastal communities compare with the rest of the country, but also how widely they often differ from each other.
- On average, coastal areas tend to show higher levels of deprivation, lower levels of education, lower social mobility and longer travel times to major employment centres. Their inhabitants were also more likely to vote for Brexit.
- On the other hand, people in coastal communities seem no less happy and aspects such poverty among the elderly, quality of the environment and travel times to local amenities are similar to – or sometimes better than – most of the rest of England.
- Coastal areas, like other parts of the country, vary widely in their characteristics, though as elsewhere, negative (and positive) attributes often cluster together in the same places. We identify areas that combine relatively high levels of poverty, poor education, poor health, low social mobility and geographical isolation as the most conspicuous examples of 'left-behind' coastal communities.
Figure 1 compares various attributes of coastal locations (specifically, postcodes within 5km of the sea, shown by the red line) with those of all locations across England (blue line). It does this by showing the distributions of indicator scores for each group, from the lowest (left-hand side of the chart) to the highest (right-hand side).
In general, coastal locations have higher levels of deprivation, including employment deprivation, income deprivation, childhood deprivation, educational deprivation and health deprivation. They also show lower qualification levels, lower participation in higher education, lower social mobility and and somewhat higher crime rates. Travel times to large employment centres tend to be longer. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given all this, coastal areas are also more Brexity than other parts of England.
Yet coastal inhabitants seem about as happy and satisfied with their lives as people elsewhere. The quality of the environment can be slightly better and poverty among older people is roughly similar to the rest of the country. Furthermore, travel times to local amenities such as shops, schools and GPs' surgeries are, if anything, somewhat shorter.
Use the menu below to explore these and other indicators.
Figure 1: Distributions of social indicator scores for locations in England
Of course, these factors are not all independent of one another – far from it. In order to explore their relationships, Figure 2 shows the same metrics for just over 3,200 locations around the coastline of the English mainland.
Unsurprisingly, employment deprivation correlates strongly with . Income deprivation, in turn, correlates to a greater or lesser degree with a wide variety of other factors, including , , , and (negatively) with young people's . Childhood deprivation correlates with , and . Education deprivation correlates with and . The quality of the local environment correlates with , , and (weakly) with .
You get the idea: socioeconomic indicators are strongly interdependent, with positive and negative factors often clustering together in the same places. Of course, this is true for non-coastal areas too.
Use the menus below to explore other combinations. Hover over the dots to see accompanying values.
Figure 2: Social and educational indicators by local authority area
The other message we should take from Figure 2 is that coastal areas are extremely diverse, spanning the full range on almost every measure. So even if they have distinctive average characteristics, that doesn't remotely suggest that they are all the same.
This is demonstrated even more explicitly in Figure 3, which shows indicator values by coastal location, from the far north east (left-hand side of the chart) to the far north west (right-hand side), as if taking a virtual walk along the entire coastline of the English mainland.
One glance at the peaks and valleys for deprivation, crime, environmental quality, participation in HE and travel times, for example, shows that coastal locations are as varied as any other parts of the country.
Use the menu below to choose an indicator. Adjust the viewfinder in the bottom chart to select which locations to display in the larger chart above it. Hover over lines in the larger chart to see corresponding data values.
Figure 3: Socioeconomic indicators for coastal areas in England
If social indicators vary widely across coastal locations but often correlate then what can we say about the places in which important negative attributes cluster together?
Map 1 shows coastal locations that are above the national median in employment deprivation, income deprivation, childhood deprivation, education deprivation, health deprivation and travel time to large employment centres. It also shows areas that are below the national median in HE participation and social mobility. Each indicator has its own distinctive distribution and there are many areas where at least some of them apply. But of most concern are the places where they all apply simultaneously.
These towns, where poverty along with poor education and employment prospects combine with relative geographical isolation, are perhaps most representative of struggling coastal communities. They include places such as Hartlepool, Scarborough, localities to the south of Grimsby, Walton-on-the Naze, Sheerness, Ramsgate, Portland, Plymouth, Ilfracombe, Blackpool, Morecambe, areas to the north of Barrow-in-Furness, and Workington. None of this is to say that these are not wonderful places to live or that the people there are unhappy. But on the face of it, they could be serving their residents much better.
Use the menu below to display specific indicators. You can also use the controls on the map itself to pan, zoom and switch views.
Map 1: Coastal locations at which selected social indicators are below the national median
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