Facts, figures and fighting fallacies

Data compiled by University of Birmingham makes for fascinating reading

I am not sure whether to be depressed or delighted with a handy little booklet that has been produced by City-REDI, The Research Institute at The University of Birmingham. The pocket size West Midlands Data Book 2017 contains a myriad of information – a pleasant alternative to Googling and an absorbing read.

I was pleased to learn, for instance, that the unemployment rate amongst 16-19 year olds has fallen in the West Midlands Combined Authority area by 39% in six years to 2016. I was even  more pleased to learn that unemployment rate amongst those of that age in the West Midlands is lower than in London (31.3%). So that is one fallacy destroyed.

I was less pleased to note however, that the unemployment rate of those between 20 and 24, at 16.7% in the West Midlands is the highest of all the city regions compared.

When it comes to our region, there are some surprising differences. GVA per head in Solihull  in 2015 was £31,705 – compared to £15,762 in Dudley. (Birmingham, if you are wondering, is at £22,307.) There are startling differences too in median gross weekly pay – these figures being 2016. Solihull leads the way at £616.70 whereas Wolverhampton is a staggering 28% less – at £440.80.

Want to know how many business births there are each year? Birmingham comes out top – with 6.6 per thousand of population in 2015 compared with 4.3 in Walsall. Why, I ponder, might that be?

Even more stark are the business death rates, again per thousand of population. In Wolverhampton it is 2.8 – the lowest of the bunch and even Birmingham, with its high business birth rate, is amongst the poorest performing – at 3.6.

There are some sobering statistics as well. The percentage of workless households in 2015 is a depressing 24.4% in Wolverhampton,  not much better at 23.3% is Birmingham and still, a surprisingly high 17.1% is Solihull.

And what of life expectancy? The handy little booklet also reveals where to live if you want to live for the longest – at least on average.

Let’s deal with the ladies first. Well, the good news is that many can expect to live well into their eighties with Solihull coming out as the longest life expectancy at 84.5 and Sandwell coming in at 81.3. Birmingham is 82.1.

But then take a look at what they describe as ‘healthy life expectancy’ where in Birmingham, it’s 58.8; in Wolverhampton it’s 58.3 – and in Solihull, 66.8.

The figures are pretty much the same for men (healthy life expectancy)  where Solihull again comes in top at 80.3 (63.6) significantly ahead of Sandwell at 77.0 (58.7).

I am not sure what to make of all these stats – and there must be several thousand that I have not even quoted – apart from having admiration for the team that pulled them together.

What I suppose it does show is that even in a comparatively small area like the West Midlands Combined Authority, there are huge differences – and huge inequalities. It rather reminds me of a Barrow Cadbury Trust report that I read some years back which posed the interesting question – ‘Why do some neighbourhoods stay poor?’

The answer is not in the figures but they do reveal the challenges that Andy Street as Mayor faces in delivering a more equitable and prosperous society.

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