North-East coalfield communities continue to be blighted by deprivation, ill health and unemployment, an independent report has found.
The State of the Coalfields study paints a grim picture for the 599,000 people who live in County Durham’s former pit towns and villages.
The report noted that 8.6 per cent of residents in the communities had bad or very bad health, compared to a national average of 5.6 per cent.
The percentage of people who claimed disability living allowance was also higher in these areas – 8.2 per cent compared to 5.4 per cent across Britain.
The report, carried out by Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research at Sheffield Hallam University and commissioned by the Coalfields Regeneration Trust, found there were fewer jobs in all 12 mining areas examined, including those in County Durham.
Figures showed there were just 48 jobs for every 100 working age residents in the county’s mining areas in 2012. The national average is 67.
The communities’ employment rate of 71 per cent was below the England and Wales average of 76 per cent, while the number of people claiming unemployment benefits was 15.8 per cent, compared to a national average of 10.9 per cent.
“The consequences are still all too visible in statistics on jobs, unemployment, benefits and ill health. The coalfields communities are seriously adrift of the national average.
“The job losses of the 1980s and 90s still cast a very long shadow.”
Peter McNestry, chair of the Coalfields Regeneration Trust, said the tough reality for coalfields residents was that these problems would not go away overnight.
He added: “We have worked for 15 years to support these communities and to provide them with access to the resources, practical advice and funding that they need to help themselves.
“We have come some way to improving the situation in the coalfields but this report proves there is still a great deal of work to be done.“
The report concluded that there was a compelling case for continued support and access to funding for coalfield communities.
It added that regeneration did work, noting that there was substantial growth in employment in other sectors of the coalfield economy, at least up to the start of the recession in 2008.
Source – Northern Echo, 19 June 2014
MINERS who broke the strike and “scabbed” can still expect to be blanked in the street 30 years on, according to a former union official.
Alan Cummings, 66-year-old former NUM lodge secretary in the ex-pit village of Easington Colliery, County Durham, explained: “People have long memories.
“There’s very few people talk to them and it split families. But we didn’t have a lot in this part.”
The strike held firm from March 1984 and the village pit which had 2,700 workers was lightly picketed. Then in August things changed.
A power loader named Paul Wilkinson from Bowburn, 10 miles away, was bussed in and hundreds of riot police made sure he got to work.
Mr Cummings, who still lives in a terraced house a stone’s throw from the former pit gates, said: “I have never seen as many police before in Easington.
“There’s only two ways into the village and it was completely blocked off. People couldn’t get in or out.
“After 6am there was vans and vans coming in. Pickets were called back from elsewhere and had to come across fields to get here. The atmosphere was really bad.”
Police and pickets fought through the day and serious disorder broke out when Coal Board property was smashed and cars wrecked.
Mr Cummings said the self-contained, isolated village had been law-abiding and needed little policing prior to the strike.
The treatment by officers – particularly those drafted in from South Wales and Lincolnshire – disgusted many locals, he said.
One striker received an out-of-court settlement of £5,000 for injuries he sustained in the protest, the ex-NUM official said. But it was a “hollow victory”.
“Miners’ wives and families in the street could not believe what went on – there was a sea-change in their attitude,” he said. “It’s been called a village under siege.”
The strike ended a little under a year after it began and the pit closed forever in 1993 – just short of 100 years since work began.
And Easington Colliery’s reliance on coal meant it was a disaster, Mr Cummings said.
“It’s been total devastation,” he said. “It’s my worst nightmare and I knew it was going to happen.”
Whereas the Germans planned pit closures in their coalfields, “here, they just wiped us out”.
The village had the second-highest percentage of colliery houses in the country and they were sold off to private landlords in the 1990s, bringing an influx of problem tenants and class A drugs.
Seemingly half the shops on Seaside Lane were shuttered and the working man’s club life, once so vibrant, was dying out.
Mr Cummings retained a passionate hate for Margaret Thatcher and did not care that the village’s celebration of her death last year upset some.
“What an epitaph she has in these mining communities: death, a lot of people have committed suicide, and no hope.
“All down to her, and some of her spawn that’s about now.”
But he also laid blame at the door of New Labour, which he said failed to make enough impact during its time in power.
Now those who have jobs work in call centres, for Railtrack, the Nissan plant at Sunderland or the Caterpillar plant in nearby Peterlee.
“But 99 per cent of them would come back to the pit if it was open,” he said.
Source – Shields Gazette, 03 Mar 2014