Thursday, 29 October 2009

New Deal for Communities?

New Deal for Communities (NDC) is a 10 year Area Based Initiative (ABI) spending £400 per household per year in 39 of the most deprived areas of the country. I think that new evidence on its impact to date is disappointing.

According to the summary: "NDC areas are experiencing positive change, some of which is over and above that occurring in the comparator areas." However, "once individual-level socio-demographic factors and also starting position are taken into account, those in NDC areas saw significantly greater improvement than those in comparator areas for only one indicator: thinking the area has improved in the last two years." What the summary doesn't tell you but the full report does (see p.91) is that (controlling for socio-demographic factors) individuals in NDC areas did worse on somewhere between 2/15 and 7/15 indicators (depending on the time period).

What I take from this is the following: Based on the best evidence that we have available a reasonably well funded ABI has not, on average, improved individual outcomes in targeted areas.

The report gives supporters of ABI wriggle room. Perhaps there are ABI's going on in the comparison areas that are just as successful (although it seems unlikely that they could be as costly as NDC so we should be doing whatever they are doing instead of NDC). Alternatively "There can be no assumption that 'success' is best measured in relation to what happens to individuals as opposed to what happens to these areas over time". I find that argument simply baffling (I thought 'no place left behind' was means to an end - i.e. helping poor people - not an end in itself). Next, 'it's still early days'. Fair enough, although the research suggests that the largest gains came first. Finally, ABI's might be good delivery vehicles. I think this last one has legs, but raises questions about whether the holistic nature of NDC fits with the need to target spatial concentrations of particular problems.

As the report says "assessing the success of neighbourhood level interventions is contested territory" but my feeling is that for the moment the evidence emerging from NDC is more negative than positive.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

The educational divide

Catching up with news after a long period of unexpected leave. The first thing I came across was a story about the educational divide: "Britain is becoming increasingly divided along educational lines with degree blackspots springing up in the poorest areas of the country as graduates flock to the capital" according to the Guardian reporting on research from the lecturer's union UCU.

The analysis involves looking at the proportion of working age population with degrees in every parliamentary constituency. What it tells us is that graduates choose to live in some areas (Richmond Park 63% graduates) and not others (Hodge Hill, Birmingham 9.9%). Whatever the newspapers say, it doesn't tell us anything about widening participation (that is about flows into education, not location decisions afterwards) and on whether this pattern is a good or bad thing for people who do not graduate.