Headlines: September 2nd, 2005

Poorer people still have more difficulty in accessing important public services in spite of the fact that the Welfare State has been in existence for 60 years, according to new research. A series of studies shows that those with the greatest need for good health care, education, jobs, housing and transport continue to have the worst access to opportunities and services.A series of ten analytical studies conducted for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation have made use of data from the millennial Census and uncovered what the Foundation is calling the ‘inverse care law’ under which poor communities have the least access to essential life chances and resources.

Researchers at the universities of Sheffield, Bristol and Edinburgh have compared people and places across England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales and highlighted key examples of the inverse relationship between need and supply for specific services. Their findings show, for example, that areas with the highest levels of poor health have the lowest numbers of doctors, dentists and other health professionals except nurses, midwives and health visitors who tend to be more concentrated in areas of need. Similarly, places with the highest proportions of young people with no qualifications have the lowest availability of working teachers per head of population.

The researchers say that geographical location as well as educational qualifications can influence the chances of someone getting a well-paid job. High-status jobs are concentrated in London and the South East while in those areas where such jobs are relatively rare, there are higher proportions of people with good qualifications in low-status posts.

On the housing front the studies show that areas with high levels of overcrowded homes, including London, parts of the South East, cities in the Midlands and the North, and Glasgow, tend not to have many under-occupied homes. Areas with the highest levels of under-occupied property are around the Home Counties and parts of the South West, North Yorkshire and Wales. The Census also recorded 185,000 unoccupied holiday homes and second residences, mostly in rural areas that tended to have unusually high proportions of local people renting their homes from private landlords.

The analysis also highlights the work – made visible by the Census – of 5.9 million people providing care and support to others on an informal basis. It finds there is a strong geographical link between informal care provision and need. The proportion of people with limiting long-term illnesses and of informal carers increases to the west and north of the UK, with the highest rates in the Welsh Valleys, parts of Scotland and areas around Tyneside an Merseyside. Poor areas with high proportions of families with no one in paid work also tend to have the highest proportion of children and young people providing informal care for relatives or friends.

The new analysis has been produced as ten short reports suitable for use by students, teachers, researchers and policy-makers. It was conducted by Dr Ben Wheeler and Professor Danny Dorling from the University of Sheffield, Dr Mary Shaw from the University of Bristol and Dr Richard Mitchell from the University of Edinburgh. Professor Dorling said the analysis exploited the unique power of the most detailed Census data ever gathered on health, education, housing, employment and poverty. “From that point of view, it is acutely disappointing to discover that so many opportunities and resources still depend on where people live. Wide and persisting inequality is reflected in big differences between ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ areas in terms of housing, education and health care as well as economic wealth,” he said.