Research shows the employment rate in coalfield areas is lower than elsewhere, with fewer jobs per people, more than 25 years after the pit closures of the 1980s.
More people in those areas also report long-term health problems and more claim out-of-work benefits.
Now, an MP in the region has claimed the coalfields “haven’t recovered from the devastation of the ideological attacks of the eighties and nineties” and blamed “recent government policies” for making matters worse.
Dave Anderson, Labour MP for Blaydon joined a body set up to regenerate Britain’s coalfields in calling on the government to invest in former pit areas.
Yet Conservative councillor David Bawn defended the government, insisting employment in the region overall is actually on the up.
The ‘State of the Coalfields’ report was commissioned by the Coalfields Regeneration Trust and carried out by the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research at Sheffield Hallam University.
It found the employment rate in the largest UK coalfields is between 2% and 7% lower than the average for England and Wales, and between 5% and 10% lower than the South East.
There are only 50 jobs for every 100 adults of working age in the coalfields, where more than 5.5 million people are said to live, significantly lower than the national average of 67%.
It also claims 11.7% of people living in the coalfields report long-term health problems compared to 8.6% nationally. Some 8.4% of adults claim incapacity benefit, 2.2% higher than the national average and almost double the South East England average.
The report also claims that 14% of adults in the coalfields are on out-of-work benefits, 4% higher than the national average.
Mr Anderson, chairman of the Coalfield Communities All-Party Parliamentary Group, said: “This report confirms what those of us who still live in the coalfields know only too well, that as always it’s the people at the sharp end of society who get hit the hardest in times of austerity.
“The coalfields haven’t recovered from the devastation of the ideological attacks of the eighties and nineties and this report shows that recent government policies have only made matters worse.
“Now more than ever we have to champion the work of the Coalfields Regeneration Trust and demand that it is properly funded on a sustainable basis.”
Chairman of the regeneration trust Peter McNestry added: “We have come a long way in the last 15 years but the recession had a disproportionate effect on the people living and working in the coalfields, which means they continue to need our support, guidance and funding.
“The coalfields simply want the opportunity to get back on their feet. These towns and villages could thrive and make a positive contribution to the country if we give them the chance.”
Yet Conservative Mr Bawn, a Northumberland County Councillor for Morpeth, said some of the data is out of date and “the periods quoted vary between 2011 to 2013 and therefore make meaningful comparisons difficult.”
He added: “However, if you refer to the lastest figures released by the Office for National Statistics showing the figures up to April this year you will notice that employment in the North East has increased by 1.5% and is one of the largest increases in the country just behind the South West on 1.6%.
“We are not out of the woods yet, but the Government’s long term plan is working. The economic indicators are getting better all the time, and the main thing that could derail our recovery is the prospect of Ed Milliband in Downing Street.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 29 July 2014