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Deprivation Indicators

Deprivation is a difficult and contested concept.  The term is variously used to refer to poverty, inequality or relative disadvantage through the absence of certain services or benefits.  It may be applied to the individual or neighbourhood and its measurement is problematic.  Nevertheless there are numerous area-based indicators of deprivation which can be calculated from small area census and non-census datasets and which have seen widespread use in research and policy.  Examples include the Jarman underprivileged area score used in the 1980s and 1990s to allocate additional payments to general medical practitioners; the Carstairs score, used particularly in health research and the Townsend score used widely in research on health inequalities and other domains such as school performance.  These (and others) are based on different combinations of census data.  More recently, Indices of Deprivation produced by central government to inform neighbourhood policy initiatives such as the National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal have increasingly used combinations of census and non-census data, taking advantage of departmental datasets and individual records which would not be available to the other researchers.

Each of these indicators essentially comprises a combination of separate variables, measured at the small area level, into a single score which aims to provide an overall proxy indicator for multivariate deprivation.  Census variables typically included include unemployment, overcrowded households and car ownership while the more recent indicators include levels of crime and aspects of accessibility to services.  There are many variations in the detailed methodology for the construction of these indicators, particularly concerning the weighting, standardization and normalisation of the different variables; whether they are combined into a single index or separate domains and whether the results are presented as indicator values or ranks.  From a geographical referencing perspective, it is very important to recognise that each of these indicators applies to specific geographical units at a specific time.  It does not follow that any individual living within an area with a high deprivation score is ‘deprived’ nor the reverse.

Further Readings

Jarman, B. (1983) Identification of underprivileged areas. British Medical Journal 286, 1705-1709

Senior, M. (2002) Deprivation indicators In: Rees, P., Martin, D. and Williamson, P. (eds.) The census data system. Wiley, Chichester pp. 123-138

Townsend, P., Phillimore, P. and Beatty, A. (1988) Health and deprivation: inequality and the north. Croom Helm, London