Author: Thomas Neville
When you think of The Hague you might think of the striking Dutch parliament building, of the hundreds of international organizations seated in this very city, of the glitz and glamor of its busy shopping street.
The Hague has another face however, one that is kept separate from the ostentation of the city center. Today, the Dutch administrative capital remains highly segregated from a socio-economic point of view, more so than any other city in the Netherlands (GGD Haaglanden 2017). In order to combat this segregation, the municipality regularly tries to identify the areas of the city which are most underprivileged and funnel public aid to the neighborhoods that need it most critically. So, how does The Hague measure the welfare of its inhabitants across the city?
Municipal Disadvantage Scores
In order to gain a clearer picture of the standard of living across the city, the municipality of The Hague has adopted a system of scorekeeping which rates neighborhoods compared to one another. These Achterstandsscores (translated to ‘Disadvantage Scores’) are calculated in relation to the combined average of every neighborhood in The Hague: Thus, a score of 0 is considered average, a negative score represents relative affluence and a positive score represents relative deprivation (GGD Haaglanden 2017).
An Index, not an Indicator
How are these Disadvantage Scores created in the first place however?
Rather than measuring poverty by one single metric such as average income, unemployment, rent or other socio-economic factors, neighborhood Disadvantage Scores are devised from a fusion of related indicators. Since 2017, the coefficient has been calculated from four such interrelated metrics: 1) the share of ethnic minorities in a neighborhood, 2) the average personal income, 3) the average value of all real estate in the neighborhood (as defined by the Dutch Wet Waardering Onroerende Zaken, or ‘WOZ’ law), and 4) the share of residents who are long-term unemployed (meaning longer than four years) (Boelhouwer and Priemus 2012).
By combining multiple metrics into a single measure – in other words, using an index rather than an indicator – the Disadvantage Score system tries to give depth and nuance to the process of mapping poverty within the city. Measuring poverty based solely on the proportion of adults who are employed for instance could be deceiving: A high proportion of employment within a neighborhood by itself does not necessarily mean that individuals are able to find work with decent enough wages to support themselves or their families.
Poverty and Unemployment
A particularly important indicator included in the calculation for the final Disadvantage Score is the prevalence of unemployment among the neighborhood’s inhabitants (GGD Haaglanden 2017). Here, the municipality’s metric prioritizes the analysis of long-term unemployment – a tacit admission that shorter-term unemployment is considered less directly indicative of poverty. The latter still plays a role in the final neighborhood score, albeit indirectly: The inclusion of average personal income indirectly reflects the effects of all forms of unemployment as higher rates of unemployment also mean lower household incomes. But in specifying that longer-term unemployment correlates best with ‘disadvantage’, the municipality of The Hague is implying that shorter-term employment is a less reliable indicator of more general socio-economic difficulties.
Why is this the case then? The conscious differentiation between the two types of unemployment suggests that unemployment in and of itself is not necessarily a disadvantage in terms of wealth and welfare. This depends on the individual’s greater context however – a consideration also taken into account by the Score system through its inclusion of household wealth and average home value indicators.
Higher incomes and the greater capital reserves implied in higher home values can help cushion the effects of unemployment. They can further allow individuals to leave the workforce rather than continue searching for a job when they cannot find one, and help individuals invest in education which can help the unemployed both stay productive while they search for a job, while degrees themselves facilitate employment. Thus, unemployment by itself is not a robust indicator for poverty and disadvantage. Rather, it can exacerbate an individual’s misfortune depending on their existing wealth and welfare status.
The Importance of Context
Given the potential differences between the dangers of unemployment for the upper-class versus the working-class, unemployment must be contextualized by other socio-economic factors before it can truly be qualified as a significant factor contributing to poverty. The Achterstandsscore calculations – acknowledging this – limits itself to counting only the most severe cases of unemployment and contextualizing neighborhood demographics in a way that represents the underlying relative privilege of each area.
And so, we end up with the following image of The Hague:
Much work remains to be done until the glitz and glamor of The Hague’s richest areas reach the outskirts as well.
Boelhouwer, P. and H. Priemus (2012). “Housing System Reform: The Opinion of Advisory Boards versus Political Reality in the Netherlands.” Journal of Housing and the Built Environment 27(4): 527-542.
GGD Haaglanden (2017). “Sociale status van wijken.” GGD Haaglanden Gezondheidsmonitor. At https://gezondheidsmonitor.ggdhaaglanden.nl/gemeenten/den-haag/themas/participatie/sociale-status-van-wijken/.