Older people in deprived neighbourhoods: social exclusion and quality of life in old age

Project lead: Dr Thomas Scharf

Research team

  • Dr Thomas Scharf

  • Professor Chris Phillipson

  • Dr Paul Kingston

  • Ms Allison Smith


February 2000 to January 2003


Dr Thomas Scharf
Centre for Social Gerontology
School of Social Relations
Keele University
Staffordshire ST5 5BG

Tel: +44 1782 584066
Email: t.s.scharf@keele.ac.uk


The concept of social exclusion has emerged as an important theme in recent social policy debates. Growing interest in social exclusion reflects not only the deepening of social inequalities over the course of the 1980s and 1990s, but also the growing marginalisation of particular social groups (for example, the long-term unemployed) and areas (for example, inner cities and outer city estates). Since 1997, tackling the causes and consequences of social exclusion has become a key concern for central and local government in the United Kingdom.

A central focus of social exclusion debates concerns loss of access to important life chances, especially those that connect individuals to the mainstream of society. In later life, the dangers of social exclusion potentially become even more pronounced. However, despite recognition of such dangers, older people have largely been neglected in policy responses to social exclusion. In particular, social policy has failed to address the spatial dimensions of social exclusion affecting older people. In this respect, older people living in socially deprived neighbourhoods may be even more prone to poverty and social exclusion than other groups within the older population. Moreover, the impact of living in such areas upon the quality of life of older people is unclear.

Against this background, this project seeks to examine both the processes which may contribute to social exclusion in later life (for example, lifelong poverty, poor health, biographical factors) and the conditions of social exclusion (for example, poor quality housing, social isolation, limited social participation, restricted access to a range of goods and services). The study will identify the implications for social policy of such factors.

Aims and objectives

The study aims to:

  • Contribute to knowledge about the circumstances of older people living in areas of concentrated poverty. The research will examine the specific characteristics of social exclusion as it may affect different groups within the older population, and identify the factors associated with deprived neighbourhoods that have the greatest bearing on quality of life in old age.

  • Explore ways in which older people manage their daily lives in deprived urban environments. The study will address how individuals handle the multiple risks associated with living in such localities, along with the survival strategies and support networks which may develop.

  • Develop research methods relevant to studying quality of life issues for older people living in areas of concentrated poverty. Research will also explore how the meaning of growing old (as defined by older people themselves) is affected by social deprivation.

  • Identify forms of deprivation which have yet to be addressed fully in gerontological and social policy research.

  • Examine the dynamics of social exclusion at a neighbourhood-level, and the implications of this for national social policy.

  • Involve older people in the development of new approaches to understanding and measuring social exclusion.

Study design

The research draws upon existing studies of neighbourhood deprivation. In order to account for regional variations, and to ensure generalisability of findings, the study will be conducted in three geographical areas: Liverpool, Newham (East London) and Manchester. These areas have been chosen on the basis of their rankings in the 1998 Index of Local Deprivation. To account for the uneven distribution of deprivation within local authority areas, fieldwork will be undertaken in the three most deprived wards in each locality. Both primary and secondary data will be collected in each study location.

The analysis of existing sources of data, at district and ward level, will provide a means of comparing the circumstances of older people in the study areas with those of the older population as a whole. This analysis will provide important information about socio-economic conditions, and health and social care needs in the study areas.

In addition, information will be collected from a representative sample of older people living in the selected study communities. Quantitative data will be generated by face-to-face interviews with 600 people aged 60 and over (200 in each district) using a structured questionnaire. The survey will gather, first, socio-demographic data about the circumstances of older people living in areas of concentrated poverty; and, second, specific information on the experiences of deprivation within a community context. The survey will be followed up by in-depth interviews with 90 older people (30 in each district). This part of the research will give greater emphasis, first, to exploring older peopleâs views about quality of life in deprived areas; and, second, to assessing the cumulative impact on individuals of exposure to disadvantage across the lifecourse.

Policy implications

This research has a direct bearing upon important current issues in health and social policy and practice. A significant outcome from the project will be an assessment of the nature of social exclusion specifically in relation to old age.

In particular:

  • The study will generate reliable and generalisable information about the social and economic circumstances of a population group (people aged 60 and over living in deprived neighbourhoods) about which policy-makers and planners know relatively little.

  • In the context of debates about social exclusion, the research will address ways in which older people living in deprived communities experience social exclusion. Not only will the research illuminate the processes which contribute to exclusion in later life, and the conditions of social exclusion, but it will also reveal the extent to which older people are actively engaged in challenging the consequences of deprivation at a neighbourhood level.

  • The research will explore the meaning of 'quality of life' for people living in such communities from the perspective of the individual. This should be relevant in improving policy measures which seek to enhance quality of life.

  • The study will deliver information that can be used to make policy more responsive to the needs of older citizens.