Equitable Spaces

Ethnicity and prosperity in East London

Black and minority ethnic groups reported lower scores in a study using new measures of prosperity devised by researchers.

At the Institute of Global Prosperity (IGP) we have been rethinking what prosperity means for people around the globe, and to challenge the structural features of the economy and the values upon which they are built. The IGP was founded in 2015 and is now deep into the task of creating more accurate indicators of prosperity than gross domestic product (GDP), which focuses narrowly on economic activity. In 2021, we took another step forward, testing this work in a key paper on what relationship these new definitions of prosperity had with regard to ethnicity in East London.

Most indicators and metrics – especially those used to measure economic performance and guide policy-making – are decided by experts in government, academia and business. This centralised, top-down approach denies communities the opportunity to participate fully in their society and economy, and instead compounds their experience of economic and social inequality with a sense of exclusion. We started this work in East London for good reason. The Olympics were held there in 2012 and its legacy was supposed to be about the socio-economic regeneration of East London which would genuinely influence the people of the area.

Since 2015, we have worked with a team of citizen social scientists and community organisations, to carry out research with hundreds of people living in five East London neighbourhoods. Working together, they have co-created a completely new definition of prosperity. Rather than outmoded measures of growth, productivity and income, this research identified 15 headline indicators of prosperity reflecting the actual experience of prosperity for the people in these places.

15 Headline indicators of prosperity 
Opportunities & aspirations: Political inclusion, voice & influence 
Power, voice & influence: good basic quality education, lifelong learning, autonomy & freedom 
Belonging, identities & culture: social relationships, sense of community, identities & culture 
Health & healthy environments: healthy bodes & healthy minds, healthy, safe & secure neighbourhoods, childhood & adolescence
Foundations of prosperity: household security & affordability, inclusion & fairness, local value creation, good quality and secure jobs

The outcome is a new Prosperity Index that measures what really influences prosperity for local communities and what supports and prevents them from thriving. This redefinition of prosperity is less concerned with economic wealth and growth, and more attentive to the things that people care about and need – secure and good quality livelihoods, good public services, a clean and healthy environment, planetary and ecosystem health, a political system that allows everyone to be heard, and the ability to have rich social and cultural lives.

The working paper Ethnicity and prosperity in East London views some of our earlier findings through the lens of race. Using data from the household survey in 2017, IGP found a marked difference between the experiences of prosperity amongst non-BAME and BAME citizens. We outline the foundations of prosperity as four interconnected dimensions: secure, regular and good quality work that provides a reliable and adequate income; secure and genuinely affordable, good quality housing in a safe neighbourhood; access to public services and social infrastructure.

A man walks down Romford Road in east London

These four foundations of prosperity are not adequately evident in BAME communities in East London. As the paper shows, only 2% of white people feel unsafe in their neighbourhood in comparison to 10% of people with mixed or multiple ethnic backgrounds and 12% belonging to other ethnic groups. This is evidence of a clear difference in experience. Nor is it isolated: 41% of mixed and multiple ethnic citizens felt dissatisfied with the local health care services compared to 11% of the white community. Feeling insecure about safety, services and one’s future affects people’s ability to achieve prosperity and a good life.

The people we were interviewing had jobs but the jobs were precarious, and as a consequence, their whole lives were founded on insecurity. Social services were not secure and housing was insecure. It’s an area where change is sudden. Affordable transport can suddenly disappear if your job changes, so access to preschool can be insecure too. You can’t think about your career progression because you struggle to get by. Livelihood insecurity is preventing people from living good lives.

Buses drive past Stratford Centre

The report suggested that one in ten people from Black ethnic groups (11%) is unemployed and looking for paid work compared to less than three in one hundred people from White ethnic groups (3%), which is a significant difference. Respondents were also asked whether they are up to date with all their household bills such as electricity, gas, telephone, or if they are behind with any of them. The data shows that only 1.7% of people from White ethnic groups are not up to date with household bills compared to 23% of people from the Mixed or Multiple ethnic groups.

The report demonstrates that differences in ethnicity are linked to differences in how people perceive and experience a good life. People from Black and minority ethnic groups tend to give a lower score to indicators that are defined as important for prosperity by the residents of East London: secure livelihoods, housing, place satisfaction and having choice and control over decisions that affect individual and community prosperity. This has implications for the IGP’s work in other countries like Kenya and Lebanon.

To build on this research the IGP has begun a new ten-year study to observe how households in 13 East London neighbourhoods self-report on their own prosperity over the coming decade. The longitudinal study will provide a key insight as to whether major regeneration projects benefit those who need their impact most.


Dr Saffron Woodcraft

Executive Lead, Prosperity Co-Lab UK (ProCol UK) and Principal Research Fellow, UCL Institute for Global Prosperity

Elisabetta Pietrostefani

Research Associate, UCL Institute for Global Prosperity

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