Saturday, 3 November 2012

Is Leith a Deprived Neighbourhood

This post was written for the blog of a local community organisation in my neighbourhood Greener Leith. They very kindly describe me as someone "who knows what they're talking about". I leave you to judge that...

This is the first of two blog posts where I will discuss how I, as a planning academic interested in spatial inequality, understand Leith and the changes that have happened in the neighbourhood over the past twenty years.

One of the reasons people like Leith is it has character. Part of this character is the characters in the neighbourhood – the faces you see in the Kirkgate and on Great Junction Street; the diversity of the neighbourhood.

It is rightly said that Leith has changed massively in the past 20 years as the housing developments in former warehouse and port areas have brought in a new, more affluent, young population. If you look at the statistics though Leith is a deprived neighbourhood. This is quite a dramatic thing to say, but it’s official.

If you look at the mapping provided for the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD) two datazones in Leith are in the bottom 15-20% of the SIMD, one datazone is in the bottom 10-15% of the SIMD, two datazones are in the bottom 5-10% of the SIMD and one datazone is in the bottom 5% of the SIMD, one of the 325 most deprived datazones in Scotland.

What does all this mean, what are they measuring here? The SIMD uses a unique geography that has broken Scotland down into 6,505 “datazones” with an average population of around 1,000. A basket of indicators from survey and administrative data – covering employment and unemployment, household income, education, health, housing quality and neighbourhood quality – are then used to rank these neighbourhoods from 1 (most deprived) to 6,505 (least deprived).

It is important to recognise that the index is relative. Even if all neighbourhoods in Scotland were equally affluent there would be enough variation in the data so that you can still rank them 1 to 6,505. However, the level of inequality in Scottish neighbourhoods is such that, as the Scottish Government statisticians demonstrated when the SIMD was first published in 2005, you see indicators in the SIMD dramatically improve after the bottom 15% of datazones.

These areas have a significant concentration of deprivation that makes them quite different from the rest of Scotland. The data from the 2011 census will be available in 2013 and it will be very interesting as to how this informs our picture, especially regarding things that are difficult to measure such as ethnic diversity.
Leith shares this national pattern of being a deeply divided place. The datazone roughly bounded by Great Junction Street, Leith Walk, Balfour Street and Bonnington Road is ranked 2,537 in the 2009 SIMD – in percentage terms, at the top of the bottom 40%.

The datazone next door, bounded by Great Junction Street, Cables Wynd, Henderson Street and the Water of Leith is ranked 630 in the 2009 SIMD, in the bottom 10% of the index. It is one of the most deprived datazones in Scotland.

Looking at the mapping, what you essentially see are “islands” of concentrated deprivation covering the predominantly Council housing areas in central Leith, surrounded by much less deprived neighbourhoods in the new build housing and the old tenement areas that are increasingly home to private-renters and young owner-occupiers.

I’m setting out this point in this way for a specific reason. Debates around deprived neighbourhoods very quickly tend towards stigma - blaming the residents for the deprivation they suffer and assuming cultures of deprivation and poverty exist; most famously recently used by David Cameron with his discussion around “Broken Britain”. This is the sort of lazy, ill-informed judgement I rail against in a lot of my research . In fact I’m increasingly trying to stigmatise more affluent neighbourhoods as being the weird ones.

Anyway, I understand neighbourhood deprivation as coming about because, basically, we put all our social housing in one place. As social housing has increasingly become a tenure of last resort, as opposed to a tenure of choice, the individual challenges faced by tenants in terms of worklessness, ill health and disability have increased – this is the only housing they can access. And the vast majority of these tenants will be perfectly normal. Probably wanting to escape the poverty and deprivation that circumstance has found them in, but just living their lives.

Some will commit anti-social behaviour. Tales of student parties in Newington and the New Town show to everyone that anti-social behaviour is not the monopoly of the poorest in society. Similarly with drug addiction and other problems.

However, with the collocation of problems, these individual problems become more obvious, problematic and difficult to manage at the neighbourhood level. Pathological explanations based on stigma and prejudice that blame the neighbourhood and “community” become an easy way to explain them.
But the statistical description of Leith above does demonstrate that the place has been changing, and arguably gentrifying. In my next post I will discuss this with a particular reference to my own research interest in public service delivery.


  1. Hi,

    I came across your blog via the Greener Leith site.

    I was interested to read your blog on deprivation and Leith both as a Leith resident on the fringe of an area of significant deprivation and as a health professional with an interest in health inequalities who uses SIMD information on a regular basis.

    I have always liked Leith as a good mixed area and I sometimes wonder how it has changed over time. I am not a proper Leither as I have only lived here for 25 years and was born along the coast in the shadow of the gas towers however I am aware that it has changed since I have lived here and perhaps even more dramatically before then. There was time in my youth when I would not have voluntarily ventured into a number of now trendy Leith watering holes unless I was with a kent local face. There are still a few bars like that today but few and far between.

    The area of Leith I live in has usually been classed as an area of some deprivation although I wouldn't describe my own circumstances that way. I live between the Fort and the Citadel and the SIMD ranking might change somewhat with the current demolition of the houses at the Fort. It would be good to see this area become a genuine mixed residential development rather than posh new flats for sale to the better off or social housing of last resort.

    On a professional basis I am aware of the health consequences of multiple deprivations most markedly and prominently perhaps on life expectancy. I am also interested in how the built environment can be best used and designed to promote positive health and ameliorate negative health consequences and have had some contact, through Equally Well, with planning colleagues in Glasgow working on aspects of this.

    For these and other reasons I look forward to reading future posts.


    John Boyce

  2. Thanks John - and future post coming up shortly.