Applied Spatial Analysis and Policy

, Volume 3, Issue 2–3, pp 107–138 | Cite as

Identifying Change Over Time in Small Area Socio-Economic Deprivation



The measurement of area level deprivation is the subject of a wide and ongoing debate regarding the appropriateness of the geographical scale of analysis, the input indicator variables and the method used to combine them into a single figure index. Whilst differences exist, there are strong correlations between schemes. Many policy-related and academic studies use deprivation scores calculated cross-sectionally to identify areas in need of regeneration and to explain variations in health outcomes. It would be useful then to identify whether small areas have changed their level of deprivation over time and thereby be able to: monitor the effect of industry closure; assess the impact of area-based planning initiatives; or determine whether a change in the level of deprivation leads to a change in health. However, the changing relationship with an outcome cannot be judged if the ‘before’ and ‘after’ situations are based on deprivation measures which use different, often time-point specific variables, methods and geographies. Here, for the whole of the UK, inputs to the Townsend index obtained from the 1991 and 2001 Censuses have been harmonised in terms of variable detail and with the 1991 data converted to the 2001 Census ward geography. Deprivation has been calculated so that the 1991 scores are directly comparable with those for 2001. Change over time can be then identified. Measured in this way, deprivation is generally shown to have eased due to downward trends in levels of lack of access to a car, non-home ownership, household overcrowding but most particularly, to reductions in levels of unemployment. Despite these trends, not all locations became less deprived with gradients of deprivation largely persisting within the UK’s constituent countries and in different area types. For England, Wales and Scotland, the calculation of Townsend scores can readily be backdated to incorporate data from the 1971 and 1981 Censuses to create a 1971–2001 set of comparable deprivation scores. The approach can also be applied to the Carstairs index. Due to differences in data availability prior to 1991, incorporating small areas in Northern Ireland would be challenging.


Townsend & Carstairs deprivation index Census Change over time Small geographical areas & wards UK 



This research uses Census data, the National Statistics Postcode Directory and GIS boundary data obtained via MIMAS CASWEB and EDINA UKBORDERS which are academic services supported by ESRC and JISC. The Census and National Statistics Postcode Directory for England & Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have been provided by the Office for National Statistics, General Register Office for Scotland and the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency and the digital boundary data by Ordnance Survey. These data are copyright of the Crown and are reproduced with permission of the Controller of HMSO. Paul Norman’s research is funded by the ESRC’s Understanding Population Trends and Processes initiative (RES-163-25-0012). The author is grateful for the constructive comments from two referees which were very useful.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of GeographyUniversity of LeedsLeedsUK

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