Medway has changed a lot in the past few years
A look into statistical information about Medway. No, wait, don't leave!
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This piece is the latest in a short series of revised articles from The Political Medway archives. From next month, Mondays will bring exclusive one-on-one interviews, retrospective essays about Medway, and other interesting explorations. But for now, an update on the numbers that make up Medway.
Note: An earlier version of this piece was posted on The Political Medway in 2015. This version is revised and includes additional data and additional analysis.
With census data from 2021 now available, it provides us with an opportunity to compare against the data we originally used when putting together statistics for our ‘About Medway’ section of The Political Medway. The following piece will look to contrast and compare that data, and what it means for the residents of Medway.
2011 vs 2021
Medway’s population is:
2011 - ageing; with a decrease in the number of people aged 0 to 18 and an increase in those aged 19-65 and 65+.
2021 – younger than the population of England overall. 16.1% is over the age of 65 and 29.1% is between the age of 0-24.
2011 - Gillingham North Ward, 17,854 people.
2021 - Gillingham North Ward, 19,871 People.
2011 – Caxton and Halling Ward, 5,448 People.
2021 – Caxton and Halling Ward, 6,596 People.
Over the next five years, the number of people aged over 65 years will increase by over 4,000 (10%), and the number aged over 85 years will increase by 900 (18%).
The 2021 data will be impacted by the covid pandemic. Thankfully, then Prime Minister, Alexander ‘Got The Big Calls Right’ Johnson, got the big calls right, so the impact of an apparently largely trivial disease that the government victoriously swept away after a mere 171,000 deaths had minimal effect on Medway’s data.
“The majority of wards in Medway fair worst for ‘education, training and skills” was quite a quote to start the 2015 version of this piece. Accurate but brutal. So before we go further, let’s look at updating that quote.
Medway ranks in the 22% most deprived local authorities nationally for education, this is Medway’s second weakest theme after crime. - Medway Council, Authority Monitoring Report for 2021. (Based on the English indices of deprivation 2019)
I’m sure we all feel better for having read that. Education is not Medway’s weakest theme, and not because all the poorly educated students of the 2010s grew up and committed crimes. So let’s see what other gems the original piece covered and how Medway has improved.
The Authority Monitoring Report’s executive summary highlights tell us that the population of Medway reached 279,142 in June 2020. This is an increase of 5.4% on the 2011 figure of 263,900. Which itself was a 6% increase from 2001.
The unemployment rate was above the national level in April 2021 at 6.9%, and the employment rate was at a five-year low of 75.3%.
The death rate in Medway stands above national levels, however there is some good news as life expectancy has risen, albeit marginally. It still remains consistently lower than the average for England.
In 2015 the data showed that Medway is an area of contrast with areas of deprivation and affluence. There were five wards in the 10% most deprived areas nationally. In contrast, six were in the least deprived 10% of wards nationally.
The 2019 data shows us that 14 neighbourhoods are among the 10% most deprived nationally. Further, only two areas are now in the least deprived 10% of wards nationally. Grim reading to be sure, with more deprived areas comes the consequent knock-on effects for health, and education.
In 2015, there was an entirely troubling life expectancy gap for men of six years between the most deprived and least deprived areas. The life expectancy gap has now grown to a staggering ten years! If you’re wondering which parts of Medway are at these extremes, Cuxton and Halling offers the longest life, while Chatham Central offers the shortest. Life expectancy for women in Chatham Central is also low but is five years higher than for men. For those of us who view life as a bleak series of challenges and numbing experiences, Medway is a good place to live.
The largest ethnic group in 2015 was - unsurprisingly - white British which made up 90% of the population. The second largest ethnic group was Asian or Asian British, accounting for 3.5% of the population. In 2021 the proportion of Medway’s population that is white British fell all the way down to 89.6%. Whilst the proportion of Medway’s second largest ethnic group, Asian or Asian British, rose to 5.2%. The white British proportion is now slightly lower than the regional but higher than national averages.
Migration to Medway has dropped since its peak in 2011. Medway’s main source of growth in 2019 continued to be natural, however significant outward migration has reduced Medway’s overall level of growth. The main origins areas for movers to Medway were Gravesham, Maidstone, and Swale. The main destinations for movers out of Medway were Swale, Maidstone, and Gravesham. These are not presumably the same people moving in and out in an infinite loop of short-term housing.
We reported in 2015 that almost half the jobs in Medway are within the retail and public sectors and generally offer low-paid employment. As a result, the average wage in Medway was 10% below the national average. Medway’s current most popular employer is Medway NHS Trust and the average salary is £24,000. The weekly earnings in Medway are currently 3.5% higher than the national average. Take that 3.5% down to Chatham High Street before Primark closes and Medway Council has to buy another property with money it can’t afford to spend.
In 2019 13.4% of the Medway population was estimated to be experiencing Income related issues. An improvement on the 15.3% facing the same problems in 2015. The number of Residents currently living in fuel poverty has dropped from 11.5% to 9%, which is lower than the national average. A statistic to watch as the current fuel crisis continues, and the rebranding of poverty into a ‘cost of living crisis’ gets worse.
Cuxton and Halling and Peninsula wards were the least ethnically diverse, with 3.5% and 3.2% respectively of the ward’s residents coming from BAME groups. In both wards nearly 95% of the residents were white British. In 2019 88.3% of Peninsula pupils are white British. Will the Peninsula’s residential campaigns to reduce housing development affect its diversity statistics in the future?
In 2015, the central and urban wards were most ethnically diverse; Chatham Central had the highest BAME population at 20.1% of the ward’s population. The ward also had the highest proportion of other White residents at 9.6%. In 2019 at least 42.1% of pupils are of minority ethnic origins. Chatham Central’s Councillors are now also 66% BAME, up from 0% in 2015.
Chatham Central, Luton and Wayfield and Gillingham South wards contained half of all those who either cannot speak English well or cannot speak English at all. Whilst the numbers are smaller, River ward also has a significantly higher proportion of its population who cannot speak English well or cannot speak English at all. 2019 data is only at Medway level and showed that 94.8% of residents aged 3 or over had English as their main language. And not as social media would have you believe some return to early human communication made up of grunts and mumbles.
Before we finish, let us look at
Population density is the average number of people living per km2.
There is little correlation between population density and economic development.
Okay, how about a graphical representation?
Medway Council is one of 46 Unitary Authorities created between 1996 and 1998. It is currently 7th on that list for population size. Bristol is 1st with 459,300. Medway is currently 21st for population density, however, with 1,434 per km2. Portsmouth is 1st with 5,315 per km2.
The advantages of high population density are:
More workers in different fields
Urban areas are more energy efficient
Greater intellectual capital.
The exploitation of water and natural resources
Pollution and deforestation
Limits to agricultural productivity
Loss of green belt
Limit to road capacity.
The rise in population density has been consistent with rising living standards and a better quality of life. However, others are concerned about a strain on resources, shortages and loss of the environment.
If you are still with me, here is a visual gag on the subject from XKCD.
Should we be worried about rising population density in Medway? Areas of high population density are often desirable places to live, with access to commuter routes for example. People who live in more rural areas may be likely to resist moves to increase population density because they are attracted to quiet village life.
According to Medway’s 2015 Joint Strategic Needs Assessment:
There is considerable variation in population density, ranging from 1.8 people per hectare in Peninsula ward to 85.3 people per hectare in Gillingham South in 2011.
The median density is 37 per hectare and Rainham Central, Watling and Strood South have approximately this density,
The least densely populated; Peninsula, Cuxton & Halling and Strood Rural.
The Most densely populated; Rochester East, Chatham Central and Gillingham South.
According to Medway’s 2021 Joint Strategic Needs Assessment:
There is considerable variation in population density, ranging from 1.8 people per hectare in Peninsula to 85.3 people per hectare in Gillingham South in 2011. The median density is 37 per hectare, and Rainham Central, Watling, and Strood South have approximately this density.
The least densely populated wards are Peninsula, Cuxton and Halling and Strood Rural, and the most densely populated wards are Rochester East, Chatham Central and Gillingham South.
So it was good to get that update.
The 2016-based population projections show that the population of Medway will increase by just under 15% reaching around 317,500 by 2035 representing an increase of just over 40,500 people. This will also require a population density of 1,636km2. If split evenly, which it won’t be, will it, more people should go to the urban areas, but not all of them will, right, and we need to protect the green belt, but developing the brown belt is fine. Obviously.
The Economic Implications
Increasing demand for housing, both for sale and for rent
Is Medway able to sufficiently increase supply in all wards or selected wards?
How far upward can the long-term forecast for house prices go?
Will make it easier to deal with Medway’s ageing population.
There continues to be a significant increase in demand.
Yet the capacity for road space is limited.
Bus and train services appear poorly equipped to handle current timetables with unaffordable ticket prices.
Reduced quality of life of greater population density
Probably few people would prefer to live in an area of greater population density.
People prefer green spaces to traffic congestion.
Tourist hotspots are increasingly crowded.
Imagine Rochester High street during Sweeps Festival. But every day. The horror.
Finally, let us return to education, as it started off so well. Medway is currently ranked 55 out of 317 for most deprived nationally. Luton & Wayfield is ranked in the most deprived 10% nationally and Chatham Central is featured in the 1% most deprived wards nationally. In 2015 Medway was ranked 2 of 348 local authorities in England and Wales for the number of residents whose highest qualification is at Level 2 - GCSE or equivalent.
OFSTED were fairly damning of Medway’s primary schools following inspections in 2013:
Ofsted’s latest data from the 30 April 2013, found that almost 8,000 children are attending a primary school that, at its last inspection, was judged to be less than good. That’s 29 primary schools not providing the expected level of education to young children. This is much worse than the quality of primary schools across England and is an unacceptable situation.
In 2019, OFSTED visiting special education needs sites to decide whether sufficient progress had been made in addressing significant weaknesses:
The area has made sufficient progress in addressing five of the eight significant weaknesses identified at the initial inspection. The area has not made sufficient progress in addressing three significant weaknesses:
- A lack of joint strategic leadership across the are between the council and education providers.
- A lack of clearly communicated strategy understood and shared by leaders across the area
- The quality of Educational Health Care plans was not acceptable.
An Inspection of Children’s Social Care services in 2019, was also graded as inadequate by OFSTED.
In conclusion, the population continues to grow but remains stymied by migration to local areas. Prospects both educationally and for a long and healthy life continue to be a challenge. A future piece will compare the deprivation maps with voting outcomes, and ask the chicken and egg question: are economically deprived areas more likely to vote Labour, or are Labour wards in a Conservative majority council, more likely to be economically deprived?
Steven Keevil is a former educator turned frozen food seller. He is involved in the running of Second Chance Medway charity, was a co-founder of The Political Medway, and still manages to find time to read hundreds of books every year.
Next week will take a look into the historical outcomes of General Elections in Medway. Exciting!
Next month’s one-on-one interview is with Leader of Medway Council and Conservative Councillor Alan Jarrett. For paid supporters only, just in case you missed that bit.
I listened to no music whilst writing this, but some recommended books that I recently finished: Nina Simone’s Gum by Warren Ellis, Holes by Louis Sachar, and The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil by Stephen Collins