Rich land, poor land
New maps based on census data depict Ireland’s affluent and deprived districts. The recession has affected all areas, but not equally
How affluent or deprived are you? Your hair-raising post-Christmas bank balance or maxed-out credit-card statement might make you feel especially poor this month. But a much more accurate and longer-term insight into how well off you really are is based on where you live.
Statisticians know that your street or neighbourhood contains a treasure trove of detail. This data indicates the extent to which you’re likely to have a decent job, a spacious home and a healthy lifestyle. It shows that the location of your home influences how well educated your children are, and what prospects they have.
Some of the conclusions to be drawn from this geographical data are obvious. The neglected complexes of local-authority flats in inner-city Dublin or the tree-lined avenues of the city’s embassy belt tell their own stories. But there are also shifting and largely hidden tracts of affluence and deprivation in large parts of rural Ireland, and among the newly built commuter belts that surround our cities.
Trutz Haase, a German-born independent social and economic consultant, has developed an index that shows the extent to which every neighbourhood, suburb and village in the State is affluent or deprived: right down to street level.
The measure is based on key indicators from the census such as education levels, housing quality, employment figures and other indicators (see panel), and is transposed into a colour-coded map.
It’s now used by Government departments and health authorities to help guide policy on where primary-care centres should be built, where bus routes are needed, or where job-creation programmes should be focused.
The latest version, based on the 2011 census results, is being published for the first time in The Irish Times. As the dust from the economic collapse settles, it shows a country changed dramatically by boom and bust.
For the 15 years of economic growth from 1991 to 2006, a rising tide of affluence lifted all boats, according to the index. Even the poorest areas did comparatively well, as unemployment declined and people became better educated. But the downturn has plunged most parts of the country back to where they were more than a decade or so ago.
“We can see that the recession has affected everywhere,” says Haase. “Many of the gains that were made over a 15-year period of economic boom have been undone in the space of a few years, but some areas have been affected more than others.”
The hardest hit
Nowhere is the decline in affluence more striking than in the outer stretches of the capital’s commuter belt. Parts of Cos Louth, Longford, Offaly, Kildare and Roscommon have experienced a dramatic reversal of fortunes.
“These are the areas where young, relatively affluent couples were for lifestyle reasons,” says Haase. “The houses were more affordable because they were an hour or an hour-and-a-half’s commute.”
Take an area such as Rochfortbridge in Co Westmeath, about 80km from Dublin. Its population swelled dramatically during the boom, and was driven mainly by young families relocating there from the capital.
Unemployment among men in Rochfortbridge has jumped from 7 per cent in 2006 – below the national average – to about 25 per cent in 2011, significantly above the national average. The increase in the proportion of people living in local-authority rented accommodation is up by some 29 per cent during the same timeframe, compared with just 6 per cent nationally.
It’s still a relatively affluent part of the commuter belt, especially compared to many urban or rural areas. But because its rise was fast, its decline was faster still.
These wider findings in the commuter belt don’t come as much of a surprise to Prof Mary Corcoran of NUI Maynooth, a sociology lecturer who has studied the growth of the suburbs. While people who rely on welfare have been cushioned from the worst effects of the downturn, this is a category of people who have fallen farther in relative terms.
“People living in the commuter belt are very much the squeezed middle,” says Corcoran. “These are the people who were getting on the ladder, moving out to a nice, bigger, more affordable house. But they were hit hardest. They may have jobs in construction, the bank or elsewhere. Their kids are growing up now and life is becoming even more expensive.”
Despite massive investment and urban regeneration in some areas over the past 20 years, many of the traditional urban blackspots remain locked in deprivation. The most socially excluded areas in the State are still areas of the capital such as Ballymun, Finglas and some of Tallaght, as well parts of the cities of Limerick and Cork.
With unemployment rates of up to 65 per cent, they are also marked by some of the highest concentrations of local-authority housing and lone parents and the poorest levels of education in the State.