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What does being “left behind” mean in practice?

Stefan Noble, OCSI, and Margaret Bolton, Local Trust, outline findings from the first draft of OCSI’s research exploring “left behind” areas and ask for your feedback on the analysis

February 2019

You can raise people’s hackles by using the term “left behind”. John Harris, writing for The Guardian, said it can be seen as having a “deeply condescending aspect, as if people in more affluent cities and suburbs were happily gliding into the future, while many towns were clinging to a sepia- tinted vision of a mislaid Albion”. It is however, a term that has gained strong political and policy currency and so it seems worth deploying – even if in inverted commas - to convey that it is both controversial and contested.


The term “left behind” is used to describe areas of the country that felt neglected by politics and politicians and is therefore strongly associated with our vote to leave the European Union. But it is also about culture and economics.

An increasing number of studies are starting to explore the underlying factors contributing to areas being “left-behind”. These factors include low levels of social mobility, low skills or declining industries and exclusion from external investment by the public and voluntary sector. But an issue for researchers interested in developing the knowledge base, and policy makers seeking to help these areas ‘catch up’, is that we lack a recognised definition of “left-behind” areas, and comprehensive work describing their characteristics and mapping them.

Research commissioned by Local Trust from Oxford Consultants for Social Inclusion (OCSI) aims to start to fill that gap by “defining, describing and mapping “left behind” areas”.

The analysis is currently in draft form and we’re inviting you to comment on it. Do the findings chime with your experience or would you challenge them?

Download the research and share your feedback

If you would like to give feedback on OCSI’s research, please email Margaret Bolton, Local Trust’s director of policy, by 11 March 2019.

We started by thinking about the characteristics of “left behind” areas. In our view they suffer the dual disadvantage of: high levels of deprivation and socio-economic challenges and they lack the community or civic assets required to enable them to respond to these challenges (places to meet, community groups able to apply for funds, small scale investment in and support for community activities and action). We drew on existing measures of deprivation, however, there was no pre-existing measure related to community or civic assets. We therefore constructed one - a new ‘Community Needs Index’. This new index combined with the Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) was used to produce an initial set of 150 “left-behind” areas – defined as wards that were ranked among the most deprived 10% in England on both our Community Needs Index and the IMD.

The research shows that the highest concentrations of “left-behind” areas are found on the periphery of large urban areas: Greater Manchester, Merseyside, Birmingham and the Black Country and to the East of London in the Thames Gateway. There are also high concentrations in the former mining and industrial areas of the North East, County Durham and Teeside, South Yorkshire and East Midlands. More isolated pockets are found in coastal communities, particularly along the East coast. By contrast, very few inner-city areas are identified as “left-behind”. This isn’t to suggest that some inner-city areas are not extremely deprived, but – in most cases – this is not accompanied by the loss of social infrastructure that typifies the areas identified by this research.

And what might being “left behind” mean in practice?

"Our research paints a shocking picture since it appears to mean a dramatic gap in peoples’ prospects."

There are significantly fewer job opportunities in “left behind” areas compared to other deprived areas and unemployment rates rose faster in the aftermath of the recession. And, these areas are falling behind other similarly deprived areas on key measures including reductions in child poverty, health outcomes and adult skill levels.


Stefan Noble is Director of Research at OCSI. OCSI are currently updating the Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) alongside Deprivation.org on behalf of the Ministry for Housing Communities and Local Government, and led on the previous update, published in 2015.


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