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18th May 2021

The Thames Estuary Growth Board has commissioned and released a Thames Estuary Levelling Up Data Atlas mapping the social inequalities and imbalances across the Thames Estuary region. The aim of the Levelling Up Data Atlas created by PRD is to inform ongoing discussions about what ‘levelling up’ means across the Estuary and how best to achieve it, including providing local authorities with the information they need to lobby government as they make their cases for funding.

“Redressing social inequalities and imbalances is at the heart of what the Thames Estuary Growth Board is trying to achieve. To do this, we must first understand what the social inequalities and imbalances are: who they affect, where they are most prominent, how severe the issue is. Understanding at each stage the people at the heart of these issues. Then, we can address these inequalities and come up with practical solutions that truly work for all the people of the Estuary.” Kate Willard OBE, Estuary Envoy and Chair of the Thames Estuary Growth Board

“We know that historically, the Thames Estuary has some of the poorest communities in the country. This data shows that this remains the case and, more importantly, that the gap between the richest and poorest places in the estuary is bigger than it has ever have been. Good evidence and insights will be critical to understanding and responding to the Levelling Up challenge. This data is a start; the challenge is for partners to come together to collaborate on research and analysis to ensure that the collective response uses the best information to make good, informed decisions.” Chris Paddock, Director, PRD

Key Outtakes from the Thames Estuary Levelling Up Data Atlas

  • Deprivation: 36% of LSOAs in the Thames Estuary are in the top 30% most deprived.
  • Children in poverty: a higher proportion of children live in low-income households in the Thames Estuary (20%) than England average (18%).
  • Covid Impact: there has been a larger percentage increase of people claiming benefits due to the pandemic across the Thames Estuary (+152%) between March 2020 and Feb 2021 than the England average (+117%).
  • Housing affordability: house prices across the Estuary are less affordable (9.6 times the average resident earnings) than the England average (7.8 times).
  • Claimant count: the Thames Estuary has a notably higher claimant rate (8% of working age) than the England average (6%).
  • Pathways after school: the proportion of school leavers going to university is a significant challenge outside London. Disadvantaged school leavers in Thames Estuary Kent and Essex are much less likely to go to university than Thames Estuary London counterparts (19% in Thames Estuary Kent and Essex vs 43% in Thames Estuary London).
  • Mental health: a higher proportion of the 16+ population have common mental health disorders in the Thames Estuary (19%) than the England average (17%).

What is Levelling Up?

‘Levelling up’ is a pledge that the UK government has made to reduce inequalities between different parts of the UK. A £4.8 billion Levelling Up Fund will invest in infrastructure that improves everyday life across the UK, including regenerating town centres and high streets, upgrading local transport, and investing in cultural and heritage assets.

In May 2021, the government appointed Neil O’Brien as Levelling Up Chief Adviser to help deliver the levelling up agenda. In autumn of this year, a white paper focussing on challenges including improving living standards, growing the private sector and increasing and spreading opportunity, will be published.

Social Disparity across the Thames Estuary region

Social disparity across and within the Estuary is significant, and the challenges are as severe as anywhere within the UK. This is, in part, exemplified by the fact that seven of the twenty local authority areas across the Estuary have been identified by the government as priority locations for levelling up investment. The challenges across the Estuary are deep rooted, and concerted, long-term action is needed to help the Estuary grow and evolve in a way which strengthens levels of prosperity and wellbeing for its diverse communities.

The Board recognises the need for future growth to be inclusive in its approach, and for investment to be targeted at creating jobs and enhancing prosperity in the parts of the Estuary that need it most.

The Estuary performs below the England average

The Levelling Up Data Atlas highlights a number of issues where the Estuary performs worse than the England average. For example, across the Estuary there is a higher percentage of working age people without any qualifications and a higher percentage claiming government support. Relatively, more children are in poverty than across England and more of the population have common mental health disorders. House prices relative to resident earnings are also much less affordable.

Different challenges across the Thames Estuary

Social challenges are quite different in the Thames Estuary London boroughs vs Thames Estuary Kent and Essex areas, highlighting the importance of local responses to these issues. In London there are lower levels of life satisfaction, significant mental health challenges and the pandemic has had a greater impact on economic hardship. Outside London, key challenges include low productivity, weaknesses in civic participation and weaker pathways for young people after school into university.

Deprivation across the Estuary also looks very different. In Thames Estuary London, deprivation is widespread across the population with large proportions of people living in the top 30% most deprived areas nationally. Outside Thames Estuary London, deprivation is much more concentrated in pockets of more severe deprivation (10 areas are within the top 2% nationally); these pockets typically neighbour more prosperous locations.

What next?

The findings from the Levelling Up Data Atlas research will inform the refreshed Thames Estuary Growth Board strategy, activities and investments going forward, as we collectively continue to strive to level up the Thames Estuary.

Read Thames Estuary Levelling Up Data Atlas

Read the Thames Estuary Levelling Up Data Atlas Executive Summary

Read the Thames Estuary Levelling Up Data Atlas