I've recently won a contract to do a rapid literature and data review of place-based policies - effectively area-based initiatives - in Scotland. I've previously blogged about the fact Scotland, last year, announced a regeneration policy, which is more than the UK coalition government could manage. But doing this review has highlighted to me the degree to which place is making a big return to Scottish policy, and not in an altogether unproblematic way. For example, the Christie Commission report, in its chapter on inequalities states:
"Living in an area with poor quality housing, low employment rates and high crime levels impacts on the health and wellbeing of all those that live there and perpetuates both the generational and geographical experience of poor outcomes. The most acute levels of deprivation tend therefore to be highly localised, with a spatial clustering of poor outcomes. Evidence indicates that tackling these multiple problems in isolation addresses neither the experience of negative outcomes through people’s lives, nor their root causes." p.56
We do have some evidence that neighbourhood, or area-effects, do exist in Scotland (see, this paper, for example) but they're not as strong as this paragraph in Christie makes out. Also, as I argue in regards to a similar equivalence (i.e. list) in this paper, presenting things in this ways hides logic, or suggests logical links that are not necessarily there and "blames" the neighbourhood for problems that are not of its making. This report is another example of this.
This does seem to be a worrying and growing trend in Scottish policy. Christie is full of references to "failure demand" and it seems that people are making the same mistake as they made in the 1980s - seeing failure in particular neighbourhoods and presuming the solution must also lie there - see Alasdair Rae's excellent paper on this which effectively disentangles the various scales at which neighbourhood problems are linked. The emphasis on early-intervention in Scottish policy seems to be another driver of this turn to place. It seems we presume that all children brought up in certain neighbourhoods will be neglected so we must concentrate our efforts at those neighbourhoods. Growing Up in Scotland demonstrated that around 40% of Scottish children will experience poverty at some point in their lives. Living in one of the 15% most deprived neighbourhoods did increase the chances of living in poverty, but certainly did not cause poverty.
I'm not against the spatial targeting of policy. As I argue in my most recent paper, it actually seems that in our desperate rush to get away from area-based policies we've lost what they were really good at - producing obvious, meaningful change in neighbourhoods. But they are never going to tackle severe inequalities across society.
Back in the 1990s Scotland has one of the world's most ambitious area-based initiatives running in four neighbourhoods - New Life for Urban Scotland. So I'm told, at devolution, someone from the Welsh Office got chatting to someone from the Scottish Office, and lo and behold Wales gained its own version of New Life in Communities First. Now, while Scotland dives headlong back into non-strategic area based interventions, the WAG is changing Communities First, after a very critical audit report highlighted many of the weaknesses found elsewhere, including Scotland, before. Wales is now moving to a "strategic" approach to regeneration that Scotland adopted in 2002 and is now dropping.
Es ever, drop me an email (or the other authors directly) if you want copies of papers behind paywalls and I'll see what I can do.