The postcode lottery laid bare by new website


A new website brings to life data on just how much children's life chances can depend on where they are born. Richard Garside explains.

It has long been known that where children are born and grow up affects the opportunities they have and what they do in their lives. A teenager living in a former industrial city with high levels of adult unemployment will often have different hopes and fears than one who has grown up in a prosperous town in the South East.

Bringing this common-sense understanding to life in an immediate and accessible manner has, however, proved difficult. Much of the data on divergent life chances, when it exists at all, is buried away in obscure statistical publications that all but the specialist would find difficult to understand.

A pioneering online comparison tool launched in July this year aims to fill this information gap. With the support of the Nominet Trust, Compare Futures allows users to compare a wide range of young people’s life experiences and life chances across England.

Data on the free website is subdivided into 12 different categories relating to education, work and caring responsibilities. By entering a postcode users can see data related to that area and compare it to the national average. Users can also compare one area to another. The results are presented by Parliamentary constituency in an accessible and engaging format.

By combining place-based geographical and Parliamentary constituency information with data related to education, employment and caring responsibilities, it is a powerful tool for teachers and students that can be used in a range of different subject areas.

So what does Compare Futures tell us about the variable life experiences of young people in England today? Here are a few examples.

One third of young people growing up near a well-known supermarket in Kensington Parliamentary constituency in London are likely to go to a Russell Group university, compared with virtually no young people growing up around a different branch of the same supermarket in Erdington, north east of Birmingham. 

Ten per cent of young people growing up in Erdington are still likely to be studying basic skills qualifications at 18, compared with only one per cent in South Kensington. Young people in Erdington are more than three times as likely to be unemployed as their peers in South Kensington.

Young people in Bradford West constituency are twice as likely as their counterparts in nearby Harrogate and Knaresborough constituency to not be in education employment or training. They are also three times as likely to be unemployed.

Comparisons between the main political party leaders’ constituencies also throws up some striking differences. Young adults living in Ed Miliband’s Doncaster North constituency are one and a half times as likely to be unemployed as those living in Nick Clegg’s Sheffield Hallam constituency. They are three times as likely to be unemployed as those living in David Cameron’s Witney constituency. 

At the age of 18 hardly any young people in Nick Clegg and David Cameron’s constituencies are engaged in studying for a basic literacy or vocational qualification. In Ed Miliband’s constituency, one in 20 are.

How about what the website does not tell us? For one thing, it does not predict the future. It tells us what young people growing up in a given area are mostly likely to be doing, not what they will do. Compare Futures is not a licence for fatalism.

The data is based on a combination of information taken from the 2001 census and more recent data related to higher education enrolments. The data was therefore compiled before the financial crash of 2008. Today more young adults will be unemployed than before the crash. We are hoping to update this information when the 2011 census is released in 2013. Until then there is no more up-to-date data on what young people who are not in education, training or unemployed are doing in each area.

Unfortunately, the website only has data for England. We hope in the future to develop the analysis to cover Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

So why has an organisation called the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies set up a website that offers no direct information about crime or the justice system? For one thing, we thought the data behind the site was so interesting that it was worth making it available in an accessible form for others to see and use.

Our interests also stretch beyond narrow questions of crime and criminal justice to include social justice, equality and fairness. Young people have no choice about where they are born or grow up. There can be few greater injustices in a young person’s life than the postcode lottery that Compare Futures reveals.

Further information
You can access the Compare Futures website for free at and the team behind the resource is happy to do school presentations. Contact them via the website to make arrangements.


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