In the run-up to the London borough elections on May 22, ELL asks: Why do the poor leave the rich to decide on their future? This week we’ll investigate the link between deprivation and low voter turnout, and why we think it’s critical that everyone gets out and votes.
Comedian Russell Brand ignited debate last year when he discouraged voting.
“Don’t bother voting,” he said in an interview with the BBC’s Jeremy Paxman.“We know it’s not going to make any difference.”
If historic trends are anything to go by, most people will follow Brand’s lead and won’t cast their ballot in this May’s local elections. In 2002 and 2006, the last two election years that did not coincide with a general election, voter turnout was a dismal 32% and 38%, respectively. This would be akin to a situation in which three friends get together, and only one friend makes all the decisions for the entire group.
Even when local elections coincide with general elections, as it did in 2010, the voter turnout rate has plummeted drastically, from 70%-85% in previous decades to 62% in 2010. What Brand may not be privy to, and what ELL has discovered through data analysis of previous elections, is that deprivation is chillingly and irrevocably linked to low voter turnout. That one hypothetical friend who is calling all the shots is much more likely to be materially comfortable: he has a steady, well-paying job, he doesn’t have to worry how he’ll feed and clothe his children, and he lives in a safe neighbourhood.
In the boroughs that ELL covers, large swaths of deprivation dominate tiny pockets of wealth. Hackney and Tower Hamlets in particular have some of the highest rates of deprivation in the entire country.
ELL examined 2010 local elections data and 2010 Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) data. The IMD score is calculated by considering seven different factors: income deprivation; employment deprivation; health deprivation and disability; education deprivation; crime deprivation; barriers to housing and social services deprivation; and living environment deprivation.
The higher the score, the higher the level of deprivation. So what does the data tell us about voter turnout and its link to deprivation in our boroughs? The average percentage of registered voters who voted in ELL boroughs in 2010 was 60%, two percentage points lower than the London average. The average deprivation score of wards in Lewisham, Croydon,Tower Hamlets and Hackey was 34 – much higher than the London average of 25.
In Croydon, the link between low voter turnout and deprivation, is strikingly precise. Seldson and Ballards, the least deprived ward in the borough, had voters turning out in droves: 74%, 14 percentage points above the ELL average. On the other hand, the most deprived ward in the borough, Fieldway had an unsurprisingly low voter turnout rate: 56%, the lowest rate in the borough.
Hackney and Lewisham also demonstrated the link between low voter turnout and deprivation: as the IMD score increases in any given ward, the percentage of registered voters who voted predictably drops.
But for every rule, there’s an exception, and in our community, that exception is Tower Hamlets. Despite having wards with extremely high levels of deprivation–indeed, some of the highest levels of deprivation in the country–voter turnout was remarkably high.
East India and Lansbury is the most uniformly deprived ward in Tower Hamlets, and the most deprived ward in the entire area that ELL covers, with an IMD score of 53. It’s also one of the most deprived in all of London. One would think that the voter turnout would be well below average for the city. Instead, the ward boasted a voter turnout rate of almost 60%.
The wards in Tower Hamlets with healthy, above average levels of voter turnout — Bromley-by-Bow; Weavers; St. Dunstan’s and Stepney Green; Shadwell; Limehouse; Bethnal Green North and Bow West–all had well above average levels of deprivation.
Why, then, is Tower Hamlets so different? ELL examines this remarkable anomaly further in the Tower Hamlets borough section. We’ve also undertaken more detailed analysis of voter turnout in Lewisham, Hackney, and Croydon, in each borough’s respective section.
But data paints only a partial picture. What does it mean when our community’s future is decided by only a handful of its residents? What gets sacrificed when this handful does not understand the community’s most intractable problems because it does not have to live with these problems?
It is our hope that, regardless of whom our readers decide to vote for, that they make their voices heard this May. If you aren’t entirely convinced, listen to the community activists we spoke to from each of our boroughs, who will also discuss the issues particular to each borough that will make the upcoming election an important one. They may just change your mind.
By Hajera Blagg & Taku Dzimwasha
Interested in how we conducted our data analysis? ELL explains it all here.