Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Poverty Maps

There's something intriguing about this wealth-poverty map of Britain. I find oneself staring at it, drawing all sorts of conclusions, though, to be honest, I'm not even sure how it works. Charles Booth's Poverty Map of London from 1889 is much more direct. The categories range from 'Upper-middle and Upper Classes. Wealthy' to 'Lowest class. Vicious, semi-criminal.' Commercial Street had a particularly crunchy social mix with the vicious and the well-to-do living cheek by jowl and not a decent plumber to be had even for ready money. Happily, I find that, even in 1889, there was very little viciousness in my part of the world. 


  1. I conclude it's like two cows sitting down to take a dump.

    What's a semi-criminal? Someone who mugs you for your phone but lets you call the police first?

  2. Just looked at the JRF map, and wondered what was with that lump of England stuck in the middle of Powys. It was then I realised that this was none other than Anglesey. What is the point of a geographic map that is without reference on the ground. And what the hell have they done with Lancashire, Cumbria and Dumfries & Galloway.

  3. You're right, Vince, it is a silly map. They did these things better in 1889.

  4. In 1889, one man thought it was possible to map an entire city in this way and wasn't afraid to do so. He wasn't afraid to choose his own scheme and definitions either. This kind of Everest-climbing Victorian confidence in the power of knowledge seems inconceivable now.

    Today, we've handed the matter off to the JRF, a specialist foundation which uses the language of science. To make things more arcane to those not in the know, the map has become an abstraction.

    And yet the JRF is itself a product of that same Victorian confidence and belief in philanthropy. In the UK at least, there aren't many if any John Rowntrees around these days although plenty of folks have the necessary funds.

    Anyone can understand Booth's map. Only an elite can understand the JRF map. The wealthy, it appears, are more interested now in pulling the ladder up after them. When confidence in knowledge fails, and it is no longer considered open to everyone, then being poor and disadvantaged must be very tough.

  5. Mark:

    It's nothing to do with pulling ladders up.

    There are no Victorian philanthropists any more because there are no poor people any more. We have the welfare state instead.

    All we have is a media concept of 'relative poverty', a term which completely destroys the accepted meaning of 'poverty' and throws up such mindbending stories as "Children in poorer areas are twice as likely to have televisions in their rooms".

    Why would a British billionnaire give his money to the British 'poor', when all they'd need to spend it on is more iTune downloads? British philanthropists still give money to genuinely poor people, but they all happen to live in other countries.

  6. Brit wrote: "Why would a British billionnaire give his money to the British 'poor', when all they'd need to spend it on is more iTune downloads?"

    You've rather made my point for me, Brit. Poor today also means lacking the skills and education to see that there's a bit more to life than iTune downloads. And if you fall into that category, well, why bother spending anything on you as by my standards it will all be wasted on feckless crap? If this isn't the wealthy pulling up a ladder, I don't know what is. There was once a huge thirst for knowledge among those at the bottom of the heap - all those working men's clubs and associations for the study of everything under the sun. Nowadays, all you get is the sun, in the form of a week of binge-drinking on Lanzarote.

    Having no money is thoroughly unpleasant and the first thing to address. But far from the only thing, imho. The shade of Mrs Jellybee still stalks far too many people who have a nice warm feeling about foreign aid, imho. Taking a look at the many street people around these parts, I'd say some things begin nearer home.

  7. Remind me what your definition of "genuinely poor" is, Brit? If I'm not mistaken, it means something like having absolutely no worldly goods of any kind and having not eaten for at least two consecutive weeks, and despite being disease-ridden and close to death, be expected to crawl the two hundred miles or more to your door (means test) to ask for your permission to eat the dog shit that your neighbour's poodle dumped on your lawn (and thank you afterwards for the pleasure). Am I close?

  8. Neil: the biggest problems facing our 'poor' people are, it seems, that they are too fat and have too many televisions.

  9. most of my 'working life' i've earned about the minimum wage, but by being careful & having inexpensive pleasures, i've managed. My computer is 8 years old, my phone cost £30, i don't have a car, MP3-player, etc. - but what i save here goes on living in a nice area. Chavs are content to live in ghettos, and indeed would make any area they move into a ghetto pretty quickly; but they can't do without their diamond-encrusted ipods & so on.

    Poverty is about more than how much money you have, it's about how you spend it, how much you need.

  10. See, that's where the problems start. Poverty is a word with a meaning. There are clear connotations of being in a state whereby you have difficulties in attaining basic nourishment, healthcare, clothing and shelter, and where such luxuries as a third television set or a package holiday to Majorca is but a distant dream, and where financial charity/state wealth distribution is a viable, humane answer.

    What the BBC means when it invokes 'relative poverty' is really a lifestyle of watching Big Brother, chainsmoking and eating fatty microwave dinners from Lidl - instead of art galleries, organic farmers' markets and worrying about your carbon footprint.

    That's okay if you want to worry about people's lifestyles, but slipping between that and what the Victorians called 'poverty' is a nonsense.

  11. "That's okay if you want to worry about people's lifestyles, but slipping between that and what the Victorians called 'poverty' is a nonsense." (Brit)

    very true, those who think our chavs are economically deprived should try the 3rd World for a taste of the real thing.