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inequalities.net or downmystreet.co.uk

FROM: John Hudson (with Paul Dornan & Dave Hudson)

What NEED does this meet?
Inequality is rising but poverty is unevenly spread across the country. Standards of living vary dramatically from place-to-place. Environmental degradation blights some communities while others enjoy the benefits of pollution free surroundings. Access to new technologies is restricted in many areas of the country while others benefit from ubiquitous high-speed wired and wireless connections. Life expectancy for a male varies from 79.3 years if he is born in North Dorset to just 68.7 years if he is born in Glasgow City.

In short, geography matters: inequality has a strong spatial dimension. However, while government policies are the solution to these problems they also contribute to them: government spending is not distributed equally; local authorities, devolved assemblies and QUANGOs attach differing priorities to tackling inequalities; the ‘post code lottery’ increasingly determines access to, or the quality of, many key government services. Where citizens once relied on a national welfare state to tackle social inequalities and a strong regional policy to redistribute income between areas of the UK, the decentralised, slimmed down, ‘hollowed out’ state of the 21st century no longer provides such guarantees.

Inequalities.net (or downmystreet.co.uk) lays bare the statistical facts of this polarisation of society. Using GIS (geographic information system) technology, it maps social science data and official statistics to postcodes and local authority boundaries. It allows those affected by inequities, campaigning against them, researching them, reporting them or reacting to them to quickly and simply access information about the levels of poverty and social exclusion in specific areas and compare them with other areas or to the national average or to rank them nationally. Similarly, it will enable people to geographically interrogate data about government spending, public service standards or the availability of public services or key private utilities. It will do for data about social exclusion and government services what upmystreet.co.uk does for data about property prices and the availability of private services, but it will serve the cause of the marginalised rather than the middle class, the anti-poverty campaigner rather than the prospective home buyer. It will hold decision makers to account and enable activists to bolster their arguments for social change by placing the latest information and research at their fingertips.

What is the APPROACH?
In many ways the approach is indistinctive: it follows the form of upmystreet.co.uk in mapping readily available statistical information to postcode data. However, its distinctive element comes in its content: the provision of information about the failures of government policy and the negative impacts of capitalism. It provides quick and easy access to information that commercial organisations are unlikely to make a profit from and that government often wants to keep quiet about. Given this, the only viable business model is one based on that of a social enterprise. Indeed, its strength will be to draw on contributions from those already active in providing such information but to use the internet to pool their expertise and knowledge. Once the technology underpinning the site is in place we will establish a network of researchers and campaigners and look for their assistance in maintaining the resource. We believe many will be happy to help us: inequalities.net will serve their ends as campaigners and researchers and will widen access to, and the impact of, data they are already collecting as part of their work.

What are the BENEFITS to people?
What we are proposing is a sort of post-modern Fabianism. Like the early Fabians, our aim is to provide wider access to objective, factual information about poverty and social exclusion and, as such, our project is politically neutral. However - again like the early Fabians – we believe that increased access to this information will aid the cause of those seeking progressive social reform. The difference comes in that their approach to distributing information (meetings, pamphlets) carried high marginal costs whereas ours carries extremely low marginal costs. Moreover, we can offer what is in effect an automated, tailored research experience for each visitor: they will select the indicators and geographic areas they are interested in.

There will be those who will point to the ‘dangers’ of our project, arguing it will exacerbate the polarisation of society by allowing people to search for ‘no go’ areas in order to discount them as communities to live, work or invest in. However, our position is that while inequality is rising, a social and political complacency has crept into our civic culture that needs to be challenged. Inequalities.net will bring information about those inequalities to a wider audience, bolster the activities of campaigners, help disadvantaged communities make the case for increased public investment, encourage journalists to include data about social inequalities in their writing and help teachers to illustrate and discuss social issues in citizenship classes. Our view is that it is not greater access to information that poses the danger to society: it is lack of debate.

What is the COMPETITION?
The obvious competitor is upmystreet.com. However, we would see our service as complementary; they use similar technologies but for differing ends. While the two will overlap in places (upmystreet provides useful information about school performance and crime rates for example) their site is primarily aimed at those with an economic interest, ours those with a social or political interest. The National Statistics website is also a ‘rival’, but again differences will persist. Our site will have more of a campaigning edge to it, lacking the need for the apolitical approach that an official government site demands.

What BUDGET & LOGISTICS are required?
We already have some of the key skills needed to take this forward and are confident we could use our connections to establish a network to support the site. The initial start up costs could be quite high though and we would need assistance from a wide range people - statisticians and GIS experts in particular – to help us get the project off the ground. It would also be very useful to draw on the expertise of commercial organisations such as upmystreet or those who have worked for them in the past.

November 4, 2003 in Increasing Awareness, Use of Statistics | Permalink


I want crime statistics on potential new home.

Posted by: Caroline Woodling at May 6, 2005 6:54:34 PM

Please could you give information re crime statistics on my new home? Thanks.

Kelly Brown

Posted by: Kelly Brown at Mar 7, 2007 1:58:36 PM