Deprivation in rural Oxfordshire: sorting out the facts from the figures
Over 60 people attended a half-day conference at County Hall on 11 June to hear about recent work on improving our understanding of rural deprivation in Oxfordshire. The event was organised by the Oxfordshire Rural Forum and featured expert speakers from Oxford Consultants for Social Inclusion, Action in Rural Sussex, Oxfordshire County Council and the Audit Commission. Oxfordshire Data Observatory also took part.
Linda Watson of Oxfordshire Rural Community Council opened the conference by explaining that following discussions within the national RCC network, Oxford Consultants for Social Inclusion had been asked to develop a means of portraying rural deprivation in a more meaningful way. Their approach has been discussed by the Oxfordshire Rural Forum and the Rural Forum for the South East, and both have been keen to champion the methodology that has been developed.
The argument that underpins the new approach goes like this:-
Analysis of the Index of Multiple Deprivation 2007 identifies only 50 of the 3,248 most deprived 10% of areas across England as being rural, and only 143 of the 6,496 most deprived 20% of areas – in other words only 2.2% of the most deprived 20% of areas in England are rural. However the proportion of deprived people living in rural areas is substantially larger than this. For example, 17% of the 5,310,000 households living on less than 60% of median income across England are in rural areas (for context, 19% of England’s population live in rural areas).
So the ‘rural share’ of deprivation in terms of people, is substantially larger than might be expected from analysis of the most deprived small areas. In other words, rural areas are substantially more deprived based on the location of deprived people than based on the location of deprived areas.
In addition, the majority of deprived people do not live in highly deprived areas, and programmes targeted at these areas will not reach substantial numbers of deprived people.
Thanks to a piece of good timing Oxfordshire County Council’s data analysis team were able to apply this approach in the work they have done recently on the ‘Joint Strategic Needs Assessment’, which will determine how miney is spent on health and social care provision over the next few years. Michael Varrow, a senior data analyst in the Social and Community Services Directorate, showed how they had been able to identify the kinds of deprivation that particularly characterised people in rural areas. He pointed out the close correlation with the needs of elderly people, because there are proportionately more older people in rural Oxfordshire than in the towns – hence there is a notably high incidence of conditions such as coronary heart disease, cancer, and dementia, as well as a higher incidence of falls.
Simon Kiley, a Research and Data Analyst with the Rural Community Council based in Sussex (‘AiRS’) explained the various ways in which ‘thinking rural’ had now become much more routine in Sussex thanks to the new way of understanding rural data. AiRS had worked hard to get the message out via the Local Strategic Partnerships and to embed ‘thinking rural’ into documents such as the ‘Sustainable Community Strategy’. Simon urged the audience to take a broad approach and think about the implications of the data, not just the data itself, and to draw these to the attention of the right people – those who decide upon policies and services.
Suki Coe of the Audit Commission reminded everyone that in the tough financial times that undoubtedly lay ahead, it would be important to ensure that services were delivered in a way that was fair and equitable. While the Comprehensive Area Assessment process has been abandoned by the new government, she explained that the Audit Commission is nevertheless still going to be implementing ‘Equality Impact Assessments’ (EIAs). Their focus is on matters such as age, religion, race, economic profile, sexual orientation and health, but their auditors would also want to ensure that the particular needs of people in rural communities were being addressed.
In sum, this was a thought provoking and interesting morning. While no-one is claiming that rural Oxfordshire suffers from high levels of deprivation, the challenge is to overcome the perception that it doesn’t have any at all. The central point is that if all funding programmes focus exclusively on deprived places, then there are very large numbers of deprived people who will continue to be missed out by the very services that they need.
For more information about the rural share of deprivation in Oxfordshire, contact Linda Watson at ORCC.
Tags: Rural economy Rural voice