Less resilient communities around Wales face extra challenges

New research identifies additional challenges faced by communities at the margins.

Following the publication of the Wales Community Assets Index and the Wales Community Resilience Index, Building Communities Trust’s (BCT) Policy Officer, Eleri Williams, explores what these linked but separate indexes tell us about the challenges faced by ‘Less Resilient’ communities in Wales and where they are located.

BCT recently published pioneering research showing sustained, place-based inequality across Wales. The research consists of two linked but separate indexes- The Wales Community Assets Index (WCAI) and the Wales Community Resilience Index (WCRI).

The Assets Index ranks all small areas in Wales across domains of connectivity, civic assets and engaged communities, to show the combined levels of community infrastructure.

Both indexes measure, score and rank all areas in Wales, providing a robust picture of the nation’s provision of community infrastructure and broader community resilience. In doing so, a category of Less Resilient Areas – places with high levels of need on both the assets index and the Wales Index of Multiple Deprivation (WIMD) 2019 – has been identified for the first time ever. Areas ranked in the top 25% of the resilience index (ranked 1-102) are categorised as less resilient areas. In essence: these are areas with fewer community and civic assets, experiencing relative isolation and low levels of participation, alongside significant deprivation.

Geography of Less Resilient Areas

Strikingly, many less resilient areas are found either on the peripheries of major urban centres – what geographers call peri-urban areas (which are beyond the suburbs) – or on post-World War II housing estates and in former mining communities. Although many less resilient areas are in peri-urban areas, some are in coastal and rural areas, such as Cardigan and Blaenau Ffestiniog.

The data suggests that, relatively speaking, many rural areas have been able to sustain their civic assets, such as community centres, pubs and shops despite often facing economic deprivation and poor connectivity. The index suggests that that many rural areas across Wales experience high levels of active and engaged communities. For many peri-urban areas, on the peripheries of Wales’s major urban centres, it is the opposite – there are lower levels of civic assets and engagement.

Despite challenges with connectivity, (which includes indicators for physical, digital and social connectivity) almost a third of households in less resilient areas do not own a car, making residents more likely to have problems accessing work and key public services. Some findings are unsurprising: the relative urban-peripherality of many less resilient areas has almost certainly led to the outmigration of more skilled, younger people; but the findings (explored below) relating to health, community action and access to funding are not as obvious.

Housing in less resilient areas

A higher proportion of people in less resilient areas reside in post-war housing, with more than 30% of dwellings built between 1945 and 1972. There are fewer houses built this millennium in less resilient areas. This might reflect the perceptions of developers and planners (and possibly reality) that fewer people want to live in less resilient areas, and of course the limited availability of land in some areas.

Economy and employment in less resilient areas

The average annual household income in less resilient areas is more than £3,800 below the Welsh national average (once housing costs are taken into account). People in less resilient areas are more likely to experience wider worklessness than other parts of Wales: many people who are out of work are not receiving benefits and many people are not working due to health issues or caring roles.

Health in less resilient areas

Residents of less resilient areas can expect to live shorter, less healthy lives, than the average across Wales, with a life expectancy of 76 years and healthy life expectancy of 64 years, compared with 78 and 68 years respectively across Wales. More than one-in-four people in less resilient areas have a long-term illness, with mental health issues particularly prevalent.

Core findings

Communities with fewer places to meet, a less engaged and active community and poorer connectivity to the wider economy, tend to experience significantly different social and economic outcomes compared to communities possessing more of these assets. It is not possible to determine from available data whether deprivation contributes to lower community assets, or vice versa, but the data suggests there is a correlation.

Compared to the Welsh average and to people living in areas with community assets, residents in less resilient areas are more likely to be unemployed, less likely to have qualifications and more likely to experience limiting long-term illnesses. They also have lower levels of community activity and receive lower levels of funding from both the state and charitable funders despite their social challenges. In particular there are notable gaps in less resilient areas in terms of the levels of funding received. This is likely to be related to a lack of third sector activity in these areas; with notably fewer third sector organisations (325 per 100,000 population), and charity trustees (838 per 100,000) compared with the national average (459 and 1,366 respectively). With limited and insecure funding, it is difficult for community and third sector organisations to fill the infrastructure gaps in in less resilient areas.

What is next for the Assets and Resilience Indexes?

BCT hopes this work encourages a new perspective on thinking about place and poverty in Wales, recognising that accessing services and opportunities is critical to peoples’ life chances. The indexes serve as a tool to understand community resilience and wellbeing more holistically. It is necessary to look beyond existing measures of deprivation and incorporate measures of community infrastructure and engagement which can serve to exacerbate the challenges of deprivation or mitigate them. This critical point cannot be ignored in the future planning of policies which aim to genuinely address poverty and disadvantage across the nation. As austerity continues to bite, we hope this research is used by policy makers and funders – as well as people working in communities – to make strong evidence-based decisions that will make a real difference to the people of Wales.