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Social & Welfare
This section will explore some of the variation in welfare and circumstance across the region, before touching on some of the relevant policy changes.

The South West has relatively low levels of deprivation, strong communities, high levels of civic participation and historically has had high levels of national in-migration; many moving to the region seeking improved quality of life and living environment.

That given, alongside relative affluence severe pockets of deprivation exist both in some of the more isolated rural areas of the region, and in our urban centres.


In 2011, the latest Indices of Multiple Deprivation (2010) were published, updating the 2007 dataset. The 2010 release showed broadly similar results to its predecessor (see OCSI) overall deprivation levels are low across the region, with Torbay, Bristol and Plymouth having the greatest proportions of their population living in deprivation. In those areas, around 1 in 10 people live within the 10% most deprived areas nationally (see Figure 10.1, and SWO IMD 2010 report).

Across England, increases in relative deprivation were observed for some coastal areas. In the South West, this included West Somerset, and Weymouth and Portland.

Figure 10.1: Indices of Multiple Deprivation, South West

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Indices of Multiple Deprivation, South West
Source: DCLG

Household expenditure and income

According to ONS’s annual Family Spending Survey,
household income in the UK in 2010 was £700.00 per week per person, £17.00 more than in 2009. The South West ranks as the fourth highest in terms of weekly income (£666, an increase on the previous year), behind London, the South East and East. The latest income estimates at district and sub-district level are from 2007/08. Both show a familiar east to west trend across the region, with generally higher incomes in the east, and lower in the west, as displayed in Figure 10.2.

Figure 10.2: Average Total Household Income, Model-Based Estimates at Middle Super Out Area Level (MSOA*) Level, 2007/08 (£ per week)

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Average Total Household Income, Model-based estimates at MSOA level, 2007/08 (£ per week)
Source: Neighbourhood Statistics
Overall, average household expenditure in the UK was £466.50 per week for the years 2008-10 combined. The South West was one of five of the 12 UK regions where expenditure in this period was higher than the UK average (£482.60), behind London, the South East, and East, and ahead of Northern Ireland (see Family Spending 2011). In 2010, expenditure increased, reversing the change seen in the previous year.

For almost all regions, the greatest area of expenditure is on transport, excluding housing and associated costs (council tax, fuel and power, etc). The data for 2008-10 shows transport accounts for 14% of household expenditure in the South West, the second highest of the English regions (behind the South East), and an overall increase of 13% since 2001/02. As well as transport, we spend more than the England average on housing and household goods, health, recreation and culture, but less on restaurants and hotels.

UK-wide analysis of household expenditure showed “surprisingly little change in average household expenditure between 2007 and 2010, given the scope of the recession.” However, when household characteristics are taken into account, using OAC4 categorisation, a more complex picture emerges: different groups show different changes between 2007 and 2010. It appears that it is difficult to define the impact of the recession on the typical household, with the effect depending greatly on household circumstances and preferences.

Low income households

Low income households are commonly defined as those receiving less than 60% of the national median household income. According to this definition, the South West has about 830,000 individuals (16% of the population - the third lowest proportion among English regions) living in low income households. This rises to just over a million (20% - also the third lowest percentage) if housing costs are taken into account.

Social Security Benefits

Of the 1.6 million people claiming benefits in the South West (May 2011) over 800,000 are in receipt of the state pension. At 15% of the total population this is the highest proportion of any region and reflects the region’s older age profile.

Just under 800,000 people in the South West are claiming social security benefits other than, or in addition to, the state pension. Again, this amounts to approximately 15% of the total population and is the third lowest proportion among the regions (behind the South East, and the East of England).

Just under 400,000 of these claimants are of working age, which is 12% of the South West population in this age group. This is also the third lowest proportion among the English regions and is below the level for England (16%).

The district and unitary authorities with the highest percentage of working age people claiming one or more benefit are mainly, although not exclusively, in the
south of the region - Torbay (19%), Plymouth (17%), Weymouth & Portland (16%), Bournemouth (15%), Cornwall (14%), and Gloucester (14%) - see Figure 10.3 below.

In the past year, numbers claiming Incapacity Benefit and Employment Support Allowance (ESA) have marginally reduced in some areas, but issues persist in certain urban areas in the south and west of the region including Torbay, Plymouth and Bournemouth (see also, Labour Market section).

Figure 10.3: Proportion of the working age population claiming one or more benefit

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Proportion of working age population claiming one or more benefit
Source: DWP


The Labour Force Survey (LFS) defines a workless household as ‘one where no one aged 16 and over is in employment’.

Results from the LFS for the quarter ending June 2011 estimates that there were 284,000 (12.4%) workless households in the South West region, two thousand lower than the same time period last year (quarter ending June 2010). This is similar to the picture in England, where the number of workless households is down 0.3% on the same period last year.

In the quarter ending June 2010, 11.7% (111,000) of children in the South West were living in workless households, the second lowest proportion among English regions and well below the England equivalent (15.7%). This has however increased by 1.6 percentage points over the past 7 years; whilst most other areas have seen this proportion reduce.

Social Capital

Social capital is generally taken to mean the value of social relationships and support, civic or community engagement or trust in friends and neighbours. Research has shown that higher levels of social capital are associated with better health, higher educational achievement, better employment outcomes and lower crime rates. It can therefore be a useful measure of the broader well-being of an area (see State of the South West 2011).

A key source for assessing levels of social capital was the DCLG-run Citizenship Survey, which was withdrawn in 2010. According to the last survey, the South West had the highest score of any English region of people agreeing that “many people in their neighbourhood can be trusted”, and the second highest proportion believing that they “feel able to influence decisions affecting their local area and Great Britain”.


The high proportion of unpaid carers in the South West reflects the ageing population of the region. According to the 2001
Census, almost half a million (500,000) people in the South West were providing unpaid care; helping to support family members, friends, neighbours or others cope with long-term physical health, disability or problems related to old age. This equates to 10% of the population, and is slightly higher than England as a whole.

Research carried out by the University of Leeds and Carers UK aims to estimate how this proportion has changed since 2001, and also seeks to highlight the importance of the contribution carers make, unpaid, in relation to the amount of money spent annually on health and social services. The research found that, since 2001, a 10% increase in the number of unpaid carers was evident in England. In the South West, the proportion was 12% (the third highest of the English regions), providing unpaid services to an estimated value of £9.6 million.

Placing value on unpaid care is, the research argues, critical in providing an economic measure of either what the state needs to provide, or families have to fund themselves.

Such estimates have an added significance given our ageing population (of particular relevance to the South West and the need for people to work longer to build up pensions and other entitlements - see also, Population and Migration section).

Carers UK warn that we are close to the ‘Tipping Point in Care’ - where the number of people available to care is not sufficient for all those who need care. Either people become less able to care as they have to choose work over care, or they are forced to give up work which (according to the research) 1 in 5 carers already do - risking lasting poverty as a result.

Charitable organisations

According to research carried out by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), just under one-third (32%) of the UK’s total voluntary sector workforce lived in London and the South-East in 2010; largely because so many charities have their headquarters located there for administrative reasons. However, further analysis of where charities are based shows that the South West region has the highest proportion of charities to population (3.6 per 1,000 population) of all English regions, with 11% of its total workforce employed in the voluntary sector. In parts of Somerset (West Somerset), Dorset (West Dorset), Wiltshire (Kennet) and Gloucestershire (Cotswold), the proportion is around double the regional level (6 per 1,000 population and above).


The last Citizenship Survey figures show that the England average for regular participation in volunteering is 23%, with the South West the highest of the English regions, at 28%.

More recently, research carried out by New Local Government Network in June 2011 looked at indicators such as regular participation in volunteering, individual sense of belonging, and civic participation to develop a local authority level “Big Society Score”. Displayed in heat maps, the research found that “Barking & Dagenham and Harlow councils are least well placed to benefit from the Big Society, with the South West and North of England regions faring strongest.”

More data on social purpose activity can be found via South West Forum, the Cabinet Office’s Big Society webpage and the NCVO Almanac.

Welfare Reform

On 16 February 2011 the Welfare Reform Bill was introduced to Parliament. The bill introduces a wide range of reforms to make the benefits and tax credits system fairer and simpler by:

  • creating the right incentives to get more people into work by ensuring work always pays
  • protecting the most vulnerable in our society
  • delivering fairness to those claiming benefit and to the tax payer

At end January 2012, the Bill was still progressing through Parliament.
The most reported elements of the bill have included the introduction of Universal Credit to provide a single streamlined benefit that will ‘ensure work always pays’ and proposals to charge single parents to use the Child Support Agency (CSA) in order to access payments from their former partners.

Big Society

The Big Society was one of the key policy ideas of the 2010 UK Conservative Party Manifesto, and now forms part of the legislative programme of the Coalition Government. The aim is “to create a climate that empowers local people and communities, building a big society that will ‘take power away from politicians and give it to people" (The Times, 2010).

Programmes in support of the Big Society are now underway, with The Big Society Capital (BSC - formerly the ‘Big Society Bank’) being central to the programme. BSC is a financial institution that aims to increase investment in society. It will do this by supporting organisations that invest in the sector, by helping them to raise money for onwards investment and become more sustainable.

The Cabinet Office states that BSC will play a critical role in speeding up the growth of the social investment market, and so boost the ability of social enterprises, charities, voluntary and community organisations (collectively “the social sector”) to deal with social issues. The BSC may go some way towards dispelling popular criticism that there is a lack of financial support available to help deliver the Big Society.

‘Community Organisers’ will be well-trained and committed individuals who will play a major role in delivering the Big Society. They will work closely with communities to identify local leaders, projects and opportunities, and empower the local community to improve their local area. The Cabinet Office are investing in a programme to train community organisers between 2011 and 2015.

DCLG states that “local government will play a vital role in promoting the Big Society”. The exact relationship between the Big Society and local government remains unclear however, as there is relatively little reference made to local authorities in the policy documentation.
Updates on the Big Society are available via the Cabinet Office website.


Society is by definition a complex and dynamic construct which is experienced differently by each individual. In that context, this chapter can give only a limited insight into the social shape of the region and the challenges for policy makers and individuals alike.

Whilst overall, the region has relatively low reliance on benefits, some urban and rural pockets have a far higher reliance on state benefits, and may prove especially vulnerable as the Welfare Reform Bill progresses through Parliament to Royal Assent.

Research indicates that as a region we may be well placed to benefit from Big Society, with strong levels of civic participation and volunteering. However, how the Big Society develops in areas in the South West, and what the impact on it will be as a result of widespread changes across all policy areas, is unclear at this stage.


Please feel free to use the charts / maps in your own presentations and reports (you can download the ones from this page below) but remember to reference the South West Observatory and to include a hyperlink to our site.