Tag Archives: Gwent

My response to Mike Hedges AM Bevan Foundation blog on the use of statistics in programmes that tackle poverty

Mike Hedges, Assembly Member for Swansea East/Dwyrain Abertawe blogged at the Bevan Foundation on how a greater flexibility in interpretation and design of data should be used to enhance the identification of people in need. My response to it is available to view on the above link. It is expanded upon here in order to articulate the value that community development brings to this process.

I’m not sure using units smaller than LSOAs necessarily leads to more accurate identification. LSOAs are already small and have been used in the most recent editions of the WIMD precisely because they allow for a more nuanced sub-ward analysis of deprivation at community level. They are constrained by the arrangement of electoral wards above them, which would presumably be costly to rearrange. With such rapid growth in housing in some wards (Butetown springs to mind) the LSOAs need to evolve to reflect the new communities that spring up; this is not necessarily about the size of LSOAs, but the cohesion and sensitivity with which a ward is carved up into them. At a macro level it is less about the size of the LSOAs and, rightly as Mike Hedges points out, about how flexibly they are interpreted by the programmes that use such data and whether other data is eligible to complement WIMD and census data. The experience of Communities First (CF) is salient here.

CF, through its use of Results Based Accountability, requires a story behind the baseline. In essence ‘what else does one know about a community beyond what the statistics suggest’. This is welcome. I recall CF community development workers (CDWs) in the Dulais Valley citing broadband connectivity data that suggested it was among the most 2-3% ‘dis-connected’ communities in the whole UK. Data related to digital connectivity, whether it is use or availability thereof, is not an indicator that WIMD draws upon; though arguably with the increased shift towards online access to job searches and availability of financial products and transactions it is a key indicator that shapes deprivation. CF allowed for additional data and research to shape the argument for resources towards particular tackling poverty activities. CDWs do not merely raise awareness of such a statistic but are well-placed to interrogate the assumptions that it informs, such as the extent to which it affects accessibility to employment advice and job adverts, and the effect on morale, confidence and preparation for the recruitment process. In such an instance the story behind the baseline does not narrate itself, and certainly not on a collective basis.

The emphasis on the size of LSOAs potentially draws attention away from the underlying indicators that the WIMD draw on. Mike Hedges focuses on two housing related indicators: tenure and council tax band. This is particularly interesting for two reasons. Firstly, that the last WIMD in 2011 deliberately reduced the weighting in the calculation of the overall WIMD of the housing domain from 10% to 5% because it drew on census data from 2001 and this was felt to be less robust than it might have been. Thus, irrespective of which indicators are used, the key issue is that the weighting of the different domains reflects the proportionality to which different indicators cause, aggregate or reflect poverty. Secondly, tenure and council tax seem reasonable indicators to accompany the current housing domain indicators of overcrowding and presence of central heating. One might argue however that data related to affordability of housing might be more pertinent again; or even availability of housing. In respect of tenure, is the status of tenure or security of tenure that is a more pertinent indicator to levels of deprivation within a community? This reveals how politically-laden the identification of indicators actually is. Why is there no business start-up related indicator? Or self-employment related indicator? Whatever the indicator, the data has to be available consistently at whatever unit level is employed because the more gaps there are the harder it is to be flexible in the interpretation of data for which Mike Hedges calls. Again CF’s experience is helpful.

The gaps in ‘NEET’ data at LSOA level made for a very patchy understanding of even the statistical extent of the problem and provided for a muddled picture among CF clusters. If the extent of a problem is not accurately known, how can progress be accurately measured? Perhaps this is why WIMD does not use ‘NEETs’ as an underlying indicator.

Community development is crucial in advocating on behalf of less vocal and/or visible interests. In this way it is able to draw attention to other indicators that can inform the analysis and measurement of disadvantage. Issues about statistical rigor remain, such that there may be legitimate technical reasons why something cannot be used. But the advocacy role is two-way and CDWs can help explain to communities why indicators are not adopted. I recall working in a Gwent valleys community where there were concerns about the mortality rate from breast cancer in that sub-ward community. The data, the Local Health Board told us, was available at sub-ward level (this was in the pre-LSOA days) but to circulate it would risk revealing the identities of the individuals who comprised the statistics, which might be insensitive and distressing, as well as breaching data protection legislation and confidentiality protocols. My and others’ roles were to facilitate that dialogue. Did the unavailability of that data affect project planning? Or our understanding of the experience and psychology of, and services for, breast cancer? Possibly. But it was a reminder that there is always a human face behind statistics; human faces that can articulate the experience and knowledge that shapes the stories behind the baseline…if they are given a suitable, safe opportunity to do so. Community development helps create such opportunities and allows them to enter the political nexus that exists around debates related to disadvantage in a way that limits the extent to which that experience can be exploited for political gain.

Returning to Mike Hedges blog, it is extremely helpful that he puts statistics and policies’ use of them under the spotlight. The opportunity to participate in the construction and design of WIMD is one which should be more prominent than it traditionally has been. A more public profile would allow the debate about what is relevant in defining ‘in need’ to be pluralised, and this is crucial and goes beyond not just finding out where people in a pre-determined and possibly remotely-determined need are.

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Pot, kettle, black…?

I do not fundamentally disagree with Chief Constable of Gwent Police, Carmen Napier, when she spoke of the need for services for families and individuals in crisis to be available when they need them, i.e., on weekends and in evenings. There is plenty of anecdotal and statistical evidence to suggest domestic abuse, child neglect, etc. can increase in severity and instance beyond the ‘nine to five’.

Chief Constable Napier’s main thrust is that since the Police are obliged to respond to incidents around the clock why should other specialist services not be expected to?

However, upon hearing her speak on the matter on the radio I was reminded of working as a Community Development Worker in the Gwent valleys, south Wales. A local neighbourhood police officer would frequently bemoan how she would return from time off to be confronted with a list of enquiries, reports and complaints that had been unattended to until she returned to the rota because the specific community was ‘her patch and not their’s. In essence that all instances of crime and disorder in the village were hers to deal with personally. Her predecessors and successors* in the role echoed these sentiments.

On a simple customer service basis this is poor practice, but it hinted at a more  systemic problem. Namely that the role of neighbourhood policing was seen as a lesser policing role, one that had a caseload of coffee mornings, checking on old folk and hanging out with community groups. The cut n thrust of tackling crime it ain’t. Indeed, I learned that there was an extra increment of pay attached to the role as an incentive for officers to apply for it because so few officers wanted to do the role.

In my experience, and from a community development perspective, there remains as much for the Police to do as other public services in reshaping its service to be more focused for those in need.

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*Of which there were several. I recall over a three year period working with a total of twelve different neighbourhood police officers in three communities. A ridiculous level of turnover and lack of continuity and completely ineffective in developing relationships with communities and community leaders.

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Reaching “Acceptance” about the Demolition of the Perry Hotel and Bar: The Hill District

unblightenvironmental:

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Perry Hotel and Bar, 649 Perry Street c. 1938-1970 (Charles “Teenie” Harris-photographer, Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh)

I live very close to what used to be the Perry Hotel and Bar in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, PA.  It was demolished on Thursday, December 13, 2012.  The building was structurally sound.  It was vacated a little less than 5 years ago by the previous owner. No heir claimed it.  No one wanted to purchase it.  The City of Pittsburgh eventually took possession of it.  

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This is an excellent article illustrating the challenges for communities in trying to conserve historic and sentimentally-valuable buildings, and the role of community development in the effort.

I can think of several instances as a Community Development Worker (CDW) in which I have been drawn into ‘Save the [insert name of local building here]’ efforts: infant schools, a pavilion, miners institute and a naturally regenerated, former coal tip. In a personal capacity, an effort to restore and revitalise a bowls pavilion in my local community in Cardiff was brought to a halt by arsonists destroying it so I can sympathise with the Hill District’s residents’ concern about safety.

The author writes that:

it takes an abundance of human and financial capital, without a guarantee of any return on such an investment.

Absolutely! Indeed it is the human capital that is arguably more a necessity. Such efforts are extremely labour intensive and tend to revolve around a core group of individuals. The challenge I have always found as a CDW in such instances is balancing the desire to support residents achieve their ambitions and not being drawn disproportionately from the action plan upon which my CDW post’s funding is provided.

The key is to identify those community outcomes that are expedited and/or enhanced by the building being retained. In the example of the former coal tip above it is the only natural, non-sports-related area of green space in a community in the Gwent valleys, south Wales. As such a local group was able to articulate how it complemented Key Stages 2-3 curricula, education on sustainability, safe and creative play, community events and skills development (particularly in traditional outdoor crafts such as dry stone walling and meadow management). The original campaign to save the area, however, was motivated by a desire to prevent further house building in the village. It is not necessarily a CDW’s role to question the validity of such a sentiment, but by broadening the argument out to encapsulate what else the land offered the local community allowed the campaign, in my view, to be more fruitful. By adopting a more positive stance – “Let’s save the land because it offers the community….” – rather than a negative one – “We don’t want the land built on…” – created a discursive environment that allowed the local authority and third sector organisations (such as the local Groundwork trust) to engage and avoid accusations of siding with one or other.

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