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Anti-Poverty Policies in Britain

Artikel vom 16.06.2004

There is a long history of area-based policies in Britain. Since the election of the New Labour Government in 1997, the scale of area-based initiatives has increased and they have taken on more of an anti-poverty focus. The government has set ambitious goals to eradicate child poverty and social exclusion, including improving conditions in the poorest neighbourhoods so that within 10-20 years no one should be disadvantaged by where they live. By Ruth Lupton and Ivan Turok

Area-Based and People-Based Approaches

Area-based initiatives have always provoked diverse reactions among practitioners and observers. Some commentators regard them as an important means of democratic renewal, community engagement and practical problem solving in deprived areas (e.g. Carley et al. 2000). Others have portrayed them as a diversion from more fundamental policies to tackle the root causes of socio-spatial inequalities (e.g. Townsend 1979). There is a range of further perspectives too, most of which recognise some role for area-based initiatives to complement wider economic and social policies (Turok 2004a).

The purpose of this chapter is to review Britain's experience of area-based and people-based anti-poverty policies and to provide a broad assessment of recent develop­ments. The first section sets the context with a brief history of anti-poverty policies in Britain. Section two outlines the development of specific area-based programmes. The third section examines the nature of the problem of poor neighbourhoods in more detail. Finally, we consider the effectiveness of recent policies and draw conclusions about the government's approach.

Area-based policies are defined here as those explicitly designed to be implemented on a small area basis. They contrast with national sectoral policies on issues such as health and crime; welfare programmes targeted at individuals in particular circumstan­ces wherever they live, such as lone parents or pensioners; and regional economic devel­opment policies to boost jobs and incomes across larger territories. Area policies are in­tended to change the nature of the place and in the process to involve the resident com­munity and other interests with a stake in its future. Depending on the character of the area's problems and potential, such initiatives often embrace a range of social, economic and physical regeneration activities cutting across the functional responsibilities of gov­ernment in education, housing, social policy, etc. They can have different institutional forms, ranging from large partnership structures involving diverse stakeholders to spe­cial purpose agencies with quite narrow responsibilities.

Anti-poverty policies

Phase 1: Creation of the welfare state, 1940s-1970s

It is important to set recent developments in the context of the changing nature of so­cio-economic policy in Britain over the last sixty years. The welfare state was created af­ter the Second World War as a relatively centralised system financed through national taxation. Universal welfare programmes were established to improve the quality of life of the population with no spatial content or priorities. The vision was to remove the five 'giant evils' of want, disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness (Timmins 2001). A key enduring objective established by the wartime coalition government was to achieve full employment. This was equated with 3% unemployment, i.e. purely frictional and arising from people moving between jobs. It was to be achieved through macroeconomic mea­sures, particularly the management of overall demand in the economy through fiscal po­licies.

Welfare policies were based on collectivist rather than individualist principles. The organisational approach was sectoral and hierarchical rather than crosscutting and place-based. Strong government departments based in London were responsible for de­signing and managing systems for improving social security, housing, education and health. Redistribution was an important objective to be achieved by improved welfare benefits for low-income groups and high quality public services to narrow the opportu­nity gap between rich and poor. The vision involved comprehensive support for the vari­ous needs of the population from 'cradle to grave'. There was a secure safety net of social insurance to protect people who were unable to find work from hardship.

The perspective of the welfare state founders was largely non-spatial. The over­whelming emphasis was on the well-being of people rather than places. The commitment to universalism and the widespread nature of poverty, ill health, bad housing and poor education tended to support a national approach. The causal connections between these conditions and their greater intensity in particular areas were secondary considerations since they were all deemed sufficiently important to warrant separate attention.

In succeeding decades the spatial dimension of poverty became more significant. Large-scale deindustrialisation and decentralisation of employment from the major cit­ies coincided with selective outward movement of population. Rising levels of unemploy­ment from the 1960s onwards caused mounting social problems, particularly in the in­ner cities (Begg et al. 1986; Robson 1988). The decline and deconcentration of jobs and population was partly induced by market forces but facilitated by an anti-urban bias in housing and environmental planning policies. Generous subsidies to owner occupation encouraged large-scale suburban development. Comprehensive redevelopment cleared low cost housing and industrial premises from inner urban areas. Active support for a programme of New and Expanded Towns attracted growth firms and skilled labour from the conurbations. Green Belts restricted the natural expansion of cities and encouraged development to 'leapfrog' to less accessible locations.

Phase 2: The challenges to welfare policies, 1980s and 1990s

A growing national economic crisis and rising unemployment during the 1970s de­stroyed the post-war consensus. Declining international competitiveness, worsening in­dustrial relations and pressure on public expenditure led to a sea change in political ide­ology under Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government. The welfare state was now portrayed as part of the problem rather than the solution to unemployment and poverty. Excessive social protection was asserted to have become a burden on business and to have created a culture of welfare dependency that negated personal responsibility and self-reliance. Full employment was discarded as an objective and high unemployment came to be regarded as a 'price worth paying' for low inflation and economic stability. Demand management was replaced by monetarism and supply side policies to promote competitive markets and efficiency.

Another break in the post-war consensus was reflected in the growing view that in­come inequality helped to fuel growth by providing incentives to individual endeavour and enterprise. It was alleged to motivate people to work, invest and generally 'get ahead'. This coincided with a shift in the definition of poverty from a relative concept (which was deemed to be nothing other than inequality) to an absolute one. It enabled the government to argue that few people experienced real hardship or dire need, since most of the poor possessed the basic necessities. This paved the way for cuts in the real value of welfare support and a shift from universal benefits towards means testing and selective targeting of the poorest groups. Means testing and targeting were also justified on the grounds that the middle class tend to benefit most from public services, higher ed­ucation being an obvious example. In addition, increasing conditions were attached to social security in order to pressurise unemployed people into seeking work.

Collective institutions came under attack in favour of private enterprise, competition and internal markets. Markets would allow for consumer choice and reward initiative, which were supposed to increase efficiency in public services and stimulate innovation. Consequently, many public sector organisations, utilities and services were subjected to contracting out and privatisation. Public housing was sold off to tenants at a discount and 'quasi-markets' introduced in education and the health service to increase choice and market disciplines. Measures were taken to reduce business taxes and to deregulate the labour market in pursuit of flexibility and adaptability. The balance of the tax system was shifted in favour of better-off groups and competition was introduced as a means of allocating public funds.

Meanwhile, there was continuing loss of jobs in the cities with debilitating effects on working class communities (Turok / Edge 1999). The collapse of their industrial base caused high rates of recorded unemployment and a shift among manual workers facing poor job prospects onto sickness-related benefits. High concentrations of workless households also reflected the sorting effects of the housing system, since poor people got trapped in neighbourhoods with the lowest quality, least desirable housing and inferior schools, health services, environmental conditions and amenities. The sale of higher quality council housing in more attractive areas contributed to a process of residualisa-tion within the social housing sector and increased polarisation across cities. Those who could afford to do so chose to live further away from people with little choice. Govern­ment ministers talked about a culture of poverty and underachievement in the inner cit­ies, characterised by an 'underclass' with anti-social values, low educational aspirations, disinterest in work and political disaffection, whether or not there was any hard evi­dence to support this.

Phase 3: Anti-poverty policies under New Labour

New Labour was elected in 1997 on the back of concerns about a growing malaise in society with the potential for unrest and instability. Bitterness, disorder and crime were resulting from increasing individualism, diminishing respect for civic institutions and systematic marginalisation of some social groups in disadvantaged neighbourhoods. The new government promised to promote social justice hand in hand with economic pros­perity, partly in the belief that a strong society would support and sustain a successful economy (Commission on Social Justice 1994). There was a suggestion, for example, that an active welfare state could assist the economy and help suppress wage inflation by ensuring a healthy supply of labour. It was also echoed in the proposition that work is the best form of welfare. This stemmed from recognition that unemployment under­mines self-respect, creates stress, damages health and causes family breakdown. La­bour's traditional commitment to full employment was replaced by the vaguer notion of full employability.

New emphasis was placed on citizen responsibilities or obligations, as well as rights. One of the implications was that people ought to seek work if they could, and that they should only claim welfare benefits if they could not. The 'passive' notion of a welfare safety net was also replaced by the more active concept of a 'springboard' or ladder out of poverty and welfare reliance: a 'hand-up' (in the form of enhanced skills) rather than a 'handout' (Timmins 2001).

Two important themes have dominated anti-poverty policy: 'welfare to work' and 'making work pay'. The former has involved trying to get as many people as possible off welfare benefits and into paid employment through programmes such as the New Deal. They have involved active labour market measures such as personal advisors, job search assistance and other personalised schemes to increase the employability and motivation of potential job seekers. Greater compulsion has been introduced to force some groups to seek work or lose their benefits. Making work pay has involved a series of in-work ben­efits and tax credits to make it more worthwhile for people to accept low paid jobs. A minimum wage has been part of the package, set at a relatively low level to avoid the possibility that it might damage employment creation.

The idea of equality has featured in the lexicon of New Labour, but with the emphasis on equality of opportunity, rather than equality of outcome. Consequently, redistribu­tion has not been a prominent objective. In addition, the emphasis in welfare benefits has been on means testing and targeting, rather than universalism. The main reason for this has been to limit the cost of increasing benefit levels. The concept of social exclusion has continued to be more widely used than poverty, partly to avoid political sensitivities. The positive argument is that social exclusion is a broader and more dynamic concept that forces consideration of the agencies and processes that cause exclusion (Turok / Edge 1999).

New Labour has devoted much attention to neighbourhoods with the highest levels of social exclusion, including the so-called 'wicked issues' of crime, teenage pregnancy, homelessness and long-term unemployment. A Social Exclusion Unit was established at the heart of government to analyse these problems and to devise solutions (Social Exclu­sion Unit 1998). Unemployment was recognised to be a key driver of exclusion. However, it was defined as a localised problem attributable to the deficient skills, aptitudes and expectations of residents and nothing to do with the availability of employment oppor­tunities. Consequently, the solutions have emphasised supply side measures (skills and employability) rather than policies to stimulate the demand for labour in cities and re­gions with slack labour markets.

Area-based policies

The early history

Area-based policies have a long history dating back to the post-war era. The first phase from the 1940s to the late 1960s had a spatial and physical emphasis. Urban prob­lems were viewed in essentially physical environmental terms, including overcrowded and unfit dwellings and congestion. The solutions involved large-scale planned décon­centration of population and jobs to surrounding areas, coupled with comprehensive clearance of run-down buildings. This was partly a response to slum housing conditions and lack of land to accommodate new development within city boundaries. It was also based on a belief that cities were uncompetitive locations for new industrial growth be­cause of their congested infrastructure and out-dated amenities. Consequently, major public investment in new economic infrastructure, superior housing and modern schools was targeted on separate 'growth areas', such as the New Towns.

A second phase emerged in the late 1960s with a rediscovery of poverty in the inner cities. Social problems of delinquency, educational underachievement and racial ten­sions were linked to weaknesses within poor communities and families slipping through the safety net of the welfare state. The perception was that certain social groups were failing to secure the socio-economic rights to which they were entitled, either because mainstream policies were insufficiently responsive to local needs, or because of low ex­pectations, weak organisational capacity and tensions within deprived communities. The solution involved special local initiatives and projects to engage disadvantaged com­munities and compensate them for deficiencies in established social policies.

With rising unemployment becoming the main urban concern during the mid-1970s, the focus shifted towards the economic dimension. Greater recognition of industrial de­cline and disinvestment replaced the social approach and challenged the prevailing pol­icy of spatial decentralisation. Instead, emphasis was placed on encouraging economic development and job creation within the inner cities. The Labour Government and local authorities encouraged industrial property development, environmental improvement and small business development strategies led by the public sector.

The 1979 Conservative Government shifted the focus towards the private sector through special incentives and simplified planning procedures, e.g. in Enterprise Zones. A new focus on the political character of local government also emerged. It was criticised for overspending, anti-business attitudes and promoting a dependency culture through its monopoly powers in council housing, education and social services. The govern­ment's response involved a combination of privatisation, competition, financial restric­tions and removal of responsibilities from local authorities towards agencies such as the Urban Development Corporations and different kinds of local partnerships, e.g. City Challenge and Single Regeneration Budget (Robson et al. 1994; Rhodes et al. 2003).

New Labour's area-based policies

It was indicated at the outset that New Labour has increased the scale and profile of area-based social policies. Compared with previous governments, there has been a tigh­ter neighbourhood focus, sometimes described unhelpfully as the 'worst estates'. Early on, a series of separate short-life thematic area-based initiatives were launched with a fo­cus on employability, education, health and crime. These high profile Action Zones were each led by a different government department and they permitted little local flexibility. The funding streams, designated priority areas and monitoring systems were all differ­ent, which created some confusion and co-ordination difficulties at the local level.

In addition, a special programme called New Deal for Communities was launched with a multi-dimensional rather than a one-dimensional approach. The 39 target neigh­bourhoods were given a budget of 70-80m Euros over a 10-year period to tackle unem­ployment, crime, low skills, poor health and poor housing and the environment. Partner­ship was a key theme, involving the local community, local authorities and other public and private organisations. The object was to put communities at the heart of the regen­eration process in order to increase local ownership, leadership and sustainability. This reflected a communitarian view and a belief in the virtues of self-help and social capital (Buck et al. 2002; Turok 2004a). Critics suggested this was a somewhat romantic notion bearing in mind the tensions that exist within poor communities (indeed all communi­ties), the tendency for exhaustion among community leaders because of the responsibil­ities heaped upon them and the particular challenges facing ethnic minority communi­ties, including unemployment rates two and a half times as high as whites. Early evi­dence from the official evaluation tends to support these reservations (Neighbourhood Renewal Unit 2003).

In response to criticisms of the proliferation of separate area-based initiatives, the government launched the National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal (Social Exclu­sion Unit 2001). This acknowledged the weaknesses of additional, time-limited schemes and proposed a more coherent approach. The neighbourhood was to be regarded as a key unit of policy delivery rather than an add-on. Existing mainstream policies and area initiatives were to be brought together in a single strategic approach. The new vision for neighbourhood renewal was that "within 10-20 years, no one should be seriously disad­vantaged by where they live" (Social Exclusion Unit 2001: 8). Two long-term goals were also established, the first involving absolute improvement and the second was about rel­ative improvement: "to have lower worklessness; less crime; better health; better skills; and better housing and physical environment in all the poorest neighbourhoods; and to narrow the gap on these measures between the most deprived neighbourhoods and the rest of the country" (p. 25).

This was the first time that such goals had been set for poor neighbourhoods, with dif­ferent government departments and tiers working together. Some new measures were introduced, including neighbourhood management, neighbourhood wardens and neigh­bourhood learning centres. Existing area initiatives would continue, with better links be­tween them. National policies such as welfare to work would be expected to deliver im­proved results in the poorest areas and new urban, regional and housing policies were identified to help revitalise urban areas and retain and attract population. A Neighbour­hood Renewal Unit was set up to co-ordinate activities, with corresponding units at re­gional and local levels to join up existing strategies and 'bend' mainstream public ser­vices in health, education, housing etc. towards the areas of greatest need. Similar prin­ciples and policies were introduced in Scotland and Wales: a longer-term perspective driven by changes in mainstream services rather than separate short-life initiatives, greater local co-ordination, and increased community involvement (Turok 2004b).

The Problems of Poor Neighbourhoods

The Social Exclusion Unit's analysis confirmed what others had been saying that the poorest neighbourhoods in Britain are very unevenly distributed. They are concentrated in London, the major cities of Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow, Liverpool, Sheffield and Leeds and their surrounding districts, and smaller industrial areas in the North and Midlands. Analysis conducted at CASE in the mid 1990s found that of the 3% poorest electoral wards in England and Wales (the analysis excluded Scotland), 86% were in Lon­don, the North or Wales (Glennerster et al. 1999). Map 1 in the picture gallery shows the distribution of these wards. It is immediately clear that this is a map of Britain's industrialisation. With the ex­ception of seaside towns, which have suffered from the growth of foreign holidays, the poorest neighbourhoods are within Britain's former industrial cities, or smaller towns that grew up to serve mining or steel industries. The legacy of industrial decline forms the overarching economic context within which neighbourhood renewal is to take place.

Poor neighbourhoods also have different residential characteristics and occupy diffe­rent positions within their local housing markets. Some (which we can think of as 'pri­mary deprivation areas') have been poor ever since they were first developed as urban areas. Some of these are inner city areas, built to serve the factories and warehouses of the industrial revolution, and originally consisting of terraced housing built in the 1800s, much of it replaced by blocks of flats between the 1960s and 1980s. Others are outer city social housing estates, built to accommodate urban expansion and to rehouse people from inner cities between the 1930s and 1950s. These areas tend to be least popular, because of their uniform housing stock, lack of tenure choice, physical distance from city amenities and poor facilities and transport.

Other poor neighbourhoods may be thought of as 'secondary deprivation areas', i.e. they were once betteroff but have become poor over time. These tend to be accessible in­ner city locations which originally housed middle class factory owners, managers, pro­fessionals and skilled artisans but became poor when the middle classes moved to the suburbs in the 1920s and 1930s. They have larger Victorian or Edwardian houses, often subdivided into flats, and tend to have high levels of private renting and transient popu­lations. Their inner city location and size mean that they often have hostel accommoda­tion for people with mental health problems, young people on low incomes or families escaping domestic violence. However, their good location and housing stock means that they have better prospects of regaining their housing market value than areas of prima­ry deprivation.

Both types of area have a common set of problems. The Social Exclusion Unit (1998) found that unemployment in the poorest neighbourhoods was three times higher than the national average; Income Support claims were twice as high; health and educational attainment were well below average; and these areas often had sub-standard and hard-to-let housing, poor environments and high crime and antisocial behaviour. However, given the mix of different neighbourhood types, it is not surprising to find that there is also considerable variation between neighbourhoods.

CASE has been following the trajectories of 12 poor neighbourhoods since 1998, se­lected to represent the distribution and characteristics of the poorest neighbourhoods in England and Wales. Qualitative data from field visits has been combined with informa­tion from secondary sources to track their progress relative to surrounding areas and the national average. This provides a unique record of the changes such neighbourhoods have experienced under New Labour. At the outset, we found marked differences bet­ween the areas. Some had literacy rates or mortality ratios only a little above the nation­al average, while others were twice as bad. One area had over one third of adults claim­ing Income Support, the main means-tested benefit, while others ranged from a fifth to a quarter. The most striking differences were in the quality of the neighbourhood envi­ronments and the services and amenities available. There was a complete contrast from well maintained, occupied housing stock with tidy streets to largely derelict areas with rows of empty, vandalised housing, dumped rubbish and widespread litter. One neigh­bourhood in Birmingham had a main street lined with busy grocery stores and other shops, while another in Blackburn had only one shop that was later closed down. Poor neighbourhoods clearly cannot be treated as though they are all the same. Different fac­tors, local and national, shape the nature of their problems and need to be understood in finding pathways to regeneration.

Causes of Neighbourhood Problems

The conclusion of the first four years of the research was that some neighbourhood problems did originate at the level of the neighbourhood but that ultimately, the source of these problems was the fit between neighbourhood characteristics and wider de­mands for housing and labour (Lupton 2003; Lupton / Power 2002). Neighbourhoods can be described as having 'intrinsic' characteristics (such as their location or their economic history) that determine their position in the residential or labour markets. Over time, un­desirable neighbourhoods lose residents who have a choice of where to live and replace them with the less well off. The combination of the least advantaged people in the least advantaged places leads to 'acquired characteristics', such as empty housing, high crime, litter, weak social networks and so on. These in turn influence the desirability of the neighbourhood and affect the population mix. These acquired characteristics can be 'managed out' to a certain extent, as the government implies. We found examples where effective cooperation between residents, police and housing departments, combined with investment in housing, has re-popularised neighbourhoods that previously had high levels of crime, anti-social behaviour and empty housing, and where there was a high success rate in overcoming low self-esteem and getting low-skilled adults back into training or work.

However, we also found well-managed neighbourhoods, with strong community or­ganisations, that found themselves susceptible to increasing problems even in the face of extra activity and funding. One such neighbourhood continued to decline very rapidly despite a programme of additional policing, youth activities, housing demolition and re­investment, employment training and other initiatives. Its bad reputation meant that it was an area of least choice, in a locality with few job opportunities and declining popu­lation. People could choose not to live there. Its population declined and it gained more and more problematic households, despite all the efforts put in.

This suggests that the fortunes of poor neighbourhoods are ultimately driven by wider trends beyond the immediate area. Different combinations of factors are undoubt­edly important in different places. There appear to be three major causal processes.

First, the economic disparities between city-regions are a pervasive influence. Al­though there has been steady employment growth across the UK over the last decade, the composition of jobs has changed. Deindustrialisation and the shift to services have had significant spatial implications. Areas with disproportionate manufacturing have continued to lose jobs, with no necessary compensating service sector growth. Some former industrial areas are also unattractive for service sector businesses, because of their peripheral location, run down environment, poor quality premises, contaminated land or lack of workforce qualifications. Job growth has generally been weaker in poorer areas than in affluent ones. London and the South East have been booming, while the major industrial conurbations of the North and Midlands have not kept up. Table 1 in the picture gallery dem­onstrates the different economic fortunes of the regions since the early 1980s.

Second, population redistribution has reflected this relative shift in economic for­tunes towards the South East. Britain's overall population increased by 2.7% in the 1990s, but an astonishing 75% of this growth was in London, the South East or East of England (Table 2 in the picture gallery). At the same time, the de-concentration trend is continuing. Within regions, smaller urban and rural areas are gaining population and cities are losing population. Apart from London, which gained just under half a million people (479,000) in the 1990s, a 7% gain, all Britain's large cities except Leeds lost population. The conurbations of the North, Midlands and Scotland lost 270,000 people altogether, 2.1% of their 1991 total (Lupton / Power, forthcoming 2004a). These trends have created a major housing de­mand problem in the North, while London and the South East experience increasing housing pressure. Lack of housing demand affects all tenures, but particularly social housing, in the context of growing preferences for owning rather than renting, and a long period of low interest rates.

Third, the settlement pattern of ethnic minority groups has been important. Britain remains a largely white country - 92% white according to the 2001 Census, although as Table 3 in the picture gallery shows, the increase in ethnic minority groups during the 1990s has been signif­icant (Lupton and Power forthcoming 2004b). It has been concentrated in the large urban areas or smaller industrial towns (such as Lancashire textile towns) where these groups were already settled. Increases in minority populations, combined with decreases in the white population, have meant that, while most urban neighbourhoods have become more ethnically diverse, there has also been an increase in the proportion of ethnic mi­nority residents living in 'majority minority' areas, i.e. that have more minority than white residents (Lupton / Power, forthcoming 2004b). Not all minority groups in Britain are disadvantaged, but Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities, which are the most seg­regated spatially, have much lower than average educational attainment and employ­ment rates, lower incomes and worse health. The increasing concentration of these groups in certain areas creates increasing concentration of economic and social prob­lems, despite effective interventions. These three changes - economic disparities, population redistribution and settlement patterns - are creating two very distinct sets of neighbourhood problems. Poor neigh­bourhoods in Scotland and the North and (to a lesser extent) the Midlands, exist in the context of low housing demand and generally low labour demand. Unemployment rates are not high by historical standards, but worklessness in the form of economic inactivity is high. There is insufficient housing demand to fill all the properties available, resulting in polarisation between areas as people choose to move away from the least popular neighbourhoods, leaving them with large numbers of empty and vandalised homes, de­relict and un-cared for environments and increasing concentrations of social problems. The majority of these neighbourhoods are white, especially primary deprivation areas at the city edge or in isolated industrial areas. There are also areas of highly concentrated disadvantaged minority population. Rapid decline can occur even in the face of invest­ment in neighbourhood regeneration.

In London and the South East, by contrast, the poorest areas have high labour de­mand, but often with very low pay, temporary contracts and poor conditions. Combined with high housing costs, this can make it difficult to move into work or out of poverty. They also have high housing demand, much of it coming from growing ethnic minority populations and international immigration. As London also attracts more highly paid professional jobs and house prices and rents continue to rise, people on middle incomes find it increasingly difficult to afford housing. There can be substantial polarisation within neighbourhoods.

The Effectiveness of Government Policy

Against this backdrop, how successful have the government's policies been, and how successful can we expect them to be? In terms of people-based anti-poverty policies, there are some positive signs of progress. The overall UK employment rate has risen to 74.9% and recorded unemployment is lower than it has been for nearly 30 years at 4.8% (CESI 2004). Although the incomes of those in the top 10% of the income distribution have continued to accelerate away from the rest, the rising inequalities in income among the rest of the population that characterised the period of Conservative government from 1979 to 1997 has largely been halted under New Labour. Child poverty rates have also fallen and the government appears to be on target to achieve its aim of eliminating a quarter of all child poverty by 2004/05. The poorest families and pensioners have more money, although there are lingering concerns about poverty among people of working age without children, about low pay, insecurity and the 'working poor'. In addition to the 1.4m jobless actively seeking work (and officially recorded as unemployed) there are 7.7m people of working age, the so-called economically inactive, who are not participat­ing in the labour market at all. About 1.3m of these are full-time students, but the remain­der on benefits are lone parents, sick and disabled people, people aged over 50, ex-of­fenders and others on the margins of society. More than 2m of them say they want a job. With this level of structural worklessness, Britain cannot claim to be approaching full employment. What about neighbourhoods? Have these improvements filtered down to the poorest neighbourhoods, or do they have the same problems as ever?

The first important thing is that it is too soon to be drawing firm conclusions. Given the enduring nature of the problems of the poorest areas, it seems unlikely that dramatic improvements could have been achieved in just a few years. Even the earliest New La­bour regeneration programmes, the New Deal for Communities, was only launched late in 1998 and came into operation in most areas in 2000 or 2001. It has had little time to make an impact. The National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal was not announced until 2001. One needs to be very cautious either about attributing success to these poli­cies or pronouncing their failure.

There are also many measurement problems making it hard to assess progress. Very little administrative data (such as mortality statistics or employment data) is disaggre­gated to the neighbourhood level, and the large scale social surveys in Britain have too small a sample size to yield any neighbourhood data. Although the government is work­ing to develop a wider range of neighbourhood indicators, at the moment it can only monitor its policies very crudely, at the local authority level or even larger scales. At this level, the government is monitoring its progress against a series of targets relating to the two long-term goals of the Neighbourhood Renewal Strategy noted earlier. There are two kinds of targets: 'floor targets' refer to absolute improvements in the poorest areas, and 'convergence targets' refer to closing the gap between the poorest areas and others. Evi­dently it would be possible for floor targets to be reached without any convergence, and for convergence to take place without improvement in the poorest areas. Both defini­tions of progress are important. The targets on which it is possible to report, with the data available at this stage, are listed in Table 4 in the picture gallery.

The social housing target shows the clearest sign of improvement. Up to 2000/01, there had been a reduction from 2.3 million to 1.6 million homes falling below the decent homes standard since 1995/96. This is a one-third reduction that, if maintained, would see the target achieved by 2010. Since much social housing, and much the highest pro­portion of non-decent homes, is within disadvantaged areas, such improvements inevi­tably affect these areas most. Note, however, that this does not necessarily result in con­vergence of housing standards, since private sector standards may be increasing more quickly.

Progress towards the other targets has been less clear-cut, although in all areas there is evidence of improvement. Employment rates have generally risen in the 30 worst local authorities since 1998, and slightly faster than the national rate. Sustained growth of the national economy over this period has clearly helped. Progress in educational attain­ment has been good, although the government's targets were very ambitious and seem unlikely to be met. For example, at primary level the rate of progress between 1997/98 and 1999/2000 was exceptionally good. As a result, the government raised its target for 2004 from 78% to 85% of 11-year-olds reaching national curriculum level 4 in maths and English in every authority. However, the improvements stopped in 1999/2000, leaving virtually all authorities still below the government's new target in 2002/03. There is evi­dence of convergence, with the performance level of the lowest performing authority ris­ing from 40% to 58% between 1997/98 and 2002/03 (in maths), compared with a median rise from 58% to 72% (Lupton / Power forthcoming, 2004c).

Crime targets also seem likely to be missed. For health, there were overall improve­ments, but variable evidence on convergence. Life expectancy increased nationally as well as in the areas with the lowest life expectancy at birth. However, the lowest per­forming authorities failed to catch up at all with the rising national average and seem un likely to catch up by the 10% that the government hopes for by 2010. On the govern­ment's other main health target, teenage pregnancy, by contrast, there were actual im­provements and evidence of convergence (Lupton / Power forthcoming, 2004c).

On this evidence, one can conclude that there have been improvements on all the is­sues that the government has targeted in the poorest local authority areas, considered in aggregate. For employment, education and teenage pregnancy there has also been some convergence between these authorities and the national average, while for crime and life expectancy there has not. In most cases it seems likely that, despite the progress made, the government will not succeed in relation to its own targets, at least at the current level of intervention.

Looking at individual local authorities or neighbourhoods in CASE'S study, the pic­ture is slightly less encouraging. We do not have space here to report detailed findings, only to note that overall, our data shows a more patchy and uneven picture of progress:

  • Significant variations in the level of problems in different areas
  • Significant variations in trends between areas, with some neighbourhoods going in the wrong direction.
  • General trends of improvement, but considerable year-on-year variations.

Moreover, if we look at a wider range of indicators relating directly to the govern­ment's vision that 'no-one should be disadvantaged by where they live', we also see a slightly different picture. Clearly it would be possible for all of the chosen indicators to show improvement but for people still to be disadvantaged by where they live. This might be because of declining environmental conditions, lack of transport, increasing ra­cial tensions, or poor neighbourhood reputations. There are no indicators on these 'live-ability' issues. Such evidence as there is suggests that there is still a very long way to go in addressing the day-to-day problems of poor neighbourhoods. The Survey of English Housing shows an increase in reported neighbourhood problems (on average) between 1999 and 2002 and that twice as many householders (23%) thought their area had got worse over the last two years than better (12%) (DETR 2000; ODPM 2003). The latest Eng­lish House Condition Survey (ODPM 2001) shows a much higher level of environmental problems in poor neighbourhoods than others.


The New Labour administration has been more supportive of area-based anti-poverty programmes than previous governments. Policies are shifting from special, time-limited and tightly targeted initiatives towards a more comprehensive and far-reaching ap­proach. The fact that progress has been uneven across different indicators and variable between places is unsurprising if, as we suggested earlier, neighbourhood interventions are operating in the face of powerful drivers associated with wider economic disparities, broad population shifts and ethnic minority settlement patterns. For example, one neigh­bourhood being studied in Birmingham has had a stubbornly high unemployment rate, not because of a lack of training provision and jobs, but because of an increasing propor­tion of recent immigrants with low skills and facing discrimination from employers.

Achieving widespread neighbourhood improvement in these circumstances will require not only a continued emphasis on area-based anti-poverty policies, but also stronger regional economic development policies; city-wide renewal and investment in derelict land, buildings and infrastructure to make urban areas more attractive places to live, work and invest; consistent people-based anti-poverty policies to address wide so­cial inequalities and inflexibilities in the welfare system; and measures to improve eth­nic minority access to better quality housing and jobs through local action and a frame­work of national rights and obligations that help to protect citizens from discrimination and injustice on the grounds of race, religion, gender, residence or other features. Some of these broader agendas are only beginning to emerge within government at present and further effort is required to underpin success in the neighbourhood renewal pro­grammes.

Current efforts to address neighbourhood, city, regional and national people-based is­sues are also not well co-ordinated. There is a range of separate policies, initiatives and institutions operating at different scales and in different 'silos', with limited concept of the most appropriate forms of intervention at each scale, or of how they should relate to each other for best effect. There is a challenge for researchers and policy-makers better to understand how neighbourhood, city and regional level processes operate and inter­act. Only by doing so will it be possible to formulate a more sophisticated institutional ar­chitecture and repertoire of policies for sustainable area regeneration.

The authors: Ruth Lupton, born 1964, Research Fellow, Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion (CASE), Lon­don School of Economics and Political Science. She has been working at CASE since 1998, re­searching the trajectories of poor neighbourhoods in the UK. She has a particular interest in the operation of public services in poor neighboorhoods and recently completed her PhD on the impact of a deprived neighbourhood context on the organisational processes and quality of secondary schools. Before joining LSE, she worked in local government and as an independent researcher, specialising in housing, community safety, and neighbourhood regeneration.

Ivan Turok, PhD Economics, born 1956, has been Professor of Urban Economic Development at the University of Glasgow since 1996 and is currently Director of Research in the Department of Urban Studies. He has researched and written extensively on cities, socio-economic develop­ment, labour markets, area regeneration and policy evaluation. He has been an adviser on local development, labour markets, cities and regional development to the European Commission, O.E.C.D., Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and Scottish Executive. He recently led the inte­grative case studies of Glasgow and Edinburgh under the Economic and Social Research Coun­cil's "CITIES: Cohesion and Competitiveness Programme".


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