Unhealthy valleys: Wales’ problem with ill-health

Greater Glasgow gets a lot of coverage for its poor health through having the lowest average lifespans in the UK. Although residents of the Welsh Valleys – the post-industrial areas north of Cardiff – don’t have such short lives, they are most likely to be living with poor health. The three UK council areas where more than 10% of adults say they are in bad or very bad health are in south Wales: Neath Port Talbot (10.5%), Blaneau Gwent (10.7%) and Merthyr Tydfil (11.1%).

Reasons are not hard to find. The Welsh Valleys were economically reliant on coal-mining, which has left a legacy of health complaints among miners; and the mining has gone with little to replace it economically, generating new mental and physical health problems. Mark Easton wrote an evocative article about the area in 2013. I recognise his descriptions from visiting a few years ago – some of the valley towns are the most obviously deprived I’ve seen in the UK, and it somehow seems worse given the beautiful and wild countryside around them.

The highest level of ill-health outside Wales is Blackpool (9.5%), while in Scotland, the highest level is Glasgow (8.7%). Overall, Wales has significantly worse reported health than any other UK nation.

The map was produced using data from the 2011 Census, Leaflet JS, CartoDB and Stamen’s open OpenStreetMap basemap, Positron. A full-page version is available here. I have recently produced a map along these lines for a commercial client, with extra features including location search and the client’s own data. If you are interested in something similar, please get in touch.