Indices of Multiple Deprivation in the UK

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Indices of Multiple Deprivation in the UK

The Indices of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) are a measure of relative deprivation used to rank neighbourhoods across the UK. Deprivation is essentially defined as ‘a lack of…’, and the IMD is intended to offer multidimensional information on material living conditions in an area or neighbourhood based on a ‘lack of’ living necessities causing an unfulfilled social or economic need, relative to the rest of the country.

Indices of Multiple Deprivation Credit:

In principle, therefore, it is a primary analytical tool for policy-makers. However, while there are examples of it being used within the public sector to describe the focus points of local deprivation (e.g. Leicester City Council (pdf), Herefordshire Council), there is not a clear systematic approach being applied to understand and utilise this data.

There is no UK-wide measure of deprivation; each country has its own official methodology which differ slightly. However the end result in each calculation is the same: a measure of deprivation at the local scale. This article will discuss the different measures of relative deprivation in the UK:

This will introduce how multiple deprivation is measured differently across the UK and how a geospatial analysis of multiple deprivation data at the small-area level can inform policy action. It will conclude with some thoughts on the limitations of the data and room for improvements within the methodology.

Measuring multiple deprivation

The indices rank every small area in the country on a scale of deprivation with 1 being the most deprived area. In England and Wales, the small areas are known as Lower-super Output Areas (LSOAs), and while the same ranking methodology applies for Scotland, and Northern Ireland, the terminology and size for the small areas varies slightly.

  • 32,844 LSOAs in England. Average population of 1,500.
  • 6,976 Data zones in Scotland. Average populations between 500-1000 household residents.
  • 1,909 LSOAs in Wales. Average populations of 1,600.
  • 890 Super output areas in Northern Ireland. Average populations of 2000.

The small areas are fixed by population size and number of households. As a consequence, the geographical sizes of the small areas varies, notably between urban and rural areas. The small areas are organised into deciles of deprivation for the purpose of analysis, with ‘1’ indicating than an area is in the most deprived 10% of the country.

This shows how the Indices of Deprivation are fundamentally a measure of geographically relative deprivation. Because the IMD data is a measure of relative deprivation and the difference between ranks varies, it is difficult to define an area as ‘deprived’ based on IMD data. Rather the data indicates the degree of deprivation in the area. Additionally, a lack of relative deprivation does not necessarily correlate to affluence an in area.

At the Social Value Portal, for the sake of geospatial analysis, we have developed a system for categorizing the LSOAs based on the decile of deprivation:


Changes over time in one area cannot easily be measured from this data, rather the data will only show how an area’s measure of deprivation compares with the rest of the country, based on ranking. This is very important when considering how this data is used in analysis. The IMD ranking is based on a set of weighted domains which vary across the different datasets as shown in Table 1: Domain Weights for UK Deprivation Indices. Weightings are only used to produce the Overall IMD ranking of an LSOA. It is possible to download the raw domain data to focus attention on a specific domain of deprivation.

Domain of Deprivation English Indices of Multiple Deprivation (2015) Scotland Index of Multiple Deprivation (2016) Northern Ireland Multiple Deprivation Measure (2017) Wales Index of Multiple Deprivation (2016)
Income 22.5% 28% 25% 23.5%
Employment 22.5% 28% 25% 23.5%
Education, Skills and Training 13.5% 14% 15% 14%
Health Deprivation and Disability 13.5% 14% 15% 14%
Crime 9.3% 5% 5% 5%
Barriers to Housing and Services 9.3%
Access to Services 9% 10% 10%
Housing 2% 5%
Physical Environment 9.3% 5% 5%

Table 1: Domain Weights for UK Deprivation Indices

This table shows how different domains of deprivation are prioritised by each country in the UK to produce the overall measure of deprivation for an area. Because of the different weighting systems, it is not possible to compare IMD data across countries in the UK. The weights are derived from considerations of the academic literature on deprivation and poverty and are uniform across each respective country.

This can fail to consider how individuals understand and prioritise deprivation differently in different areas. This highlights an opportunity for local authorities to manipulate the weighting scores based on what local residents identify as important.

Applying Deprivation Data

The purpose of the IMD is to identify priority areas in order to target programmes and policies more effectively. Through the use of geospatial analysis software, priority areas within a local authority can be identified. By mapping the individual domains as well as the overall IMD data the different priorities of areas within the same local authority can be understood.

The Social Value Portal is using IMD data to inform Social Value policies by identifying the areas that can be targeted through the procurement process to increase the social value added.
However, given the quantitative, data-driven nature of the IMD this data can only be used as a starting point for understanding local needs and priorities. This helps to structure in-depth research into the specific needs of the most deprived areas in a specific area or local authority.

IMD_Post_Newcastle(inc Legend)
Figure 1: Newcastle upon Tyne IMD Map

The above IMD map of Newcastle upon Tyne provides an initial analysis of the Priority Areas in the local authority. This initial analysis identifies the areas for an in-depth research into local needs and development priorities. This helps to inform social value policies through creating a targeted procurement process which benefits the areas of highest deprivation and greatest need.


The IMD data is a great starting point for understanding the needs of a local area for the purpose of informing a targeted policy strategy. Yet as with most quantitative datasets there are limitations surrounding how much the data can be relied on to inform policies, most obviously is the fact that it does not consider what the public identify as their greatest needs. Given that deprivation is fundamentally experienced by individuals, the lack of data relating to individual well-being and overall life satisfaction is limiting. This is because living in a relatively deprived neighbourhood may not necessarily correlate to a poor quality of life.

Questions can also be raised over whether a relative measurement of deprivation is the most informative for policies makers. This is largely due to the fact that it is not possible to measure how an area has progressed between datasets, it will only show how its relative ranking in the country has changed.

Additionally, because there are no defined categories of deprivation, it is likely that two areas in the same decile of deprivation will be experiencing different degrees of deprivation.

Finding IMD Data

You can download the latest versions of the IMD datasets for the different countries of the UK here:

Correct at the time of writing

If you’d like to find out more about the IMD and how the Social Value Portal can help you understand local needs to frame your social value policy, please get in touch through our Contact Page, or contact for more details.