During the heyday of coal-mining, Ashington in Northumberland was considered the “world’s largest coal-mining village.”
The town had a working pit and was part of a corner of the county where the industry thrived with sites also at Newbiggin-by-the-Sea, Blyth and Ellington.
However, by the end of the 1980s, things had changed.
By 1967 Newbiggin Colliery had closed and – with Margaret Thatcher in power – in 1986 Bates Colliery at Blyth was shut down with Ashington following suit two years later.
Men were left out of work with 64,000 jobs lost across Britain as Thatcher’s government went to war wth the miners.
Today, the former Ashington mine is the home of a business park with a large pond at its centre.
It looks pleasant enough.
But has the restoration of the site seen the revitalisation of the town, and Northumberland’s former coalfields as a whole?
The local MP – who is a former president of the National Union of Mineworkers, a charity set up to regenerate Britain’s former coalfields in which 5.5 million people live, and academics commissioned by that charity, certainly don’t think so.
30 years on from the 1984/85 miners’ strike which followed the announcement that pits were to close, The Coalfields Regeneration Trust commissioned Sheffield Hallam University’s Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research to takes stock of social and economic conditions in former coalfields.
The report for the charity, set up to “champion coalfield communities, generate resources to respond to their needs and deliver programmes that make a positive and lasting difference,” revealed deprivation, ill health and poor employment, with just 50 jobs for every 100 people of working age, 11.7% of people reporting long-term health problems and 14% of adults claiming out-of-work benefits.
Labour MP for Wansbeck, Ian Lavery, whose constituency covers Ashington and Newbiggin, says it is a familiar picture locally.
“The stark thing from the report is that it shows that despite the attention in these former coalfields towns and villages up and down the country, there is still huge problems in terms of the high unemployment, the high youth employment, the low wage economy.
“Sadly the North has got the highest level of unemployment. We have got associated problems.
“Lack of business opportunities, and there is wide scale child poverty in the towns and villages which is something we should not be looking at in this day and age.
“Some of my wards in my constituency child poverty is 40 per cent.”
Mr Lavery, who has lived and worked in a mining community all his life, has called on the powers-that-be to address what he has deemed a lack of investment in the former coalfields over the years.
“There is a whole number of problems arising from that report, that local authorities and the government need to take a look into that report and make sure more investment is made.
“I believe the North East has been left behind. We have not had the resources aimed at other industries.
“I would call on the government to scrutinise what has happened in the North East. Where it has went wrong and make a pledge to put it right.
“We are a cash rich nation, to have children in poverty is a political choice. Money is being spent on different projects.
“My simple project would be to eradicate child poverty.
“We can not have kids can not go to school because they have not got enough food in their bellies.
“It is absolutely unacceptable for that level of poverty in areas in any region.
“What needs to be done is there needs to be more investment in the coalfield communities, there needs to be more job opportunities, more business investments, better skills and knowledge and more job creation.
“If we get that with decent terms and conditions, the rest will follow in line.
“The government need to look at how best to assist the North East region, to eradicate the problems which are clearly identified in this report.”
He felt Northumberland County Council is doing its best to help, given its limited financial clout.
“I think the county council the last couple of years, they are doing their damnedest.
“They have tried to put a lot of things in place.
“They are absolutely cash strapped because of the cuts to local government. They have not got the finance they once had.
“A lot of the service Wansbeck (District Council) provided are not being provided any more.”
Since 2011, the trust has created and safeguarded 911 jobs and secured full or part-time employment for a further 2,921 people living within the coalfields communities throughout England.
Since it was established 15 years ago, programmes delivered by the trust have benefited hundreds of thousands of people in the British coalfields, including helping more than 21,000 people into work and over 187,000 to gain qualifications and new skills.
Chairman of the charity Peter McNestry said:
“We welcome Ian’s support and absolutely agree that additional finances are required if we are to make a difference in these areas.
“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 meaning they continue to need our support, guidance and funding.”
“The coalfields simply want the opportunity to get back on their feet. An entire industry ceased to exist, which employed directly and indirectly most of the people living within these areas. We cannot just turn our backs and walk away. “These towns and villages could thrive and make a positive contribution to the country if we give them the chance.”
The government said its investment in the trust is proof of its support for former coalfields, with over £200m given to the body over the last 15 years, and money ploughed into the areas from other sources.
A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: “Long term economic planning has helped to secure a better future and deliver much needed growth.
“We have given over £220 million to support to the Coalfields Regeneration Trust since 1999.
“They have been moving to a self-financing model and the trust now has a strong portfolio of investment and an opportunity to concentrate on the areas where they really add value.
“Regeneration is essential to building a strong and balanced economy, which is why we have given extensive support to many of these areas with the £1.4billion Regional Growth Fund, Local Enterprise Partnerships and City Deals.”
The county council said it is working to improve the former coalfield areas, drawing in investment from elsewhere in addition to spending money of its own.
The authority said its top priority, along with the hoped for dualling of the A1 North of Morpeth, is to secure around £65m to re-open the Ashington, Blyth and Tyne rail line to passenger services.
Furthermore, the council is leading the project for a new £30m South East Northumberland Link Road.
In addition, Arch, the authority’s county development company, is leading creation of a ten year investment plan for Ashington.
This could see a potential £74m ploughed into the town and bring 1,000 high-quality jobs.
Arch is also leading the delivery of a new £20m leisure and community facility at Ashington while the council is proposing to move its headquarters from Morpeth to the town.
The authority furthermore cited its support for the opening of a new £120m Akzo Nobel factory at Ashington.
It also highlighted the new £8m Blyth Workspace building being led by Arch, the first part of the town’s Enterprise Zone.
The council has furthermore secured £600,000 for preparatory work on the former power station site at East Sleekburn which could host 500 new jobs.
The authority also highlighted the £1m being invested at Lynemouth by the Big Lottery Fund and its setting up of a poverty issues task and finish group.
Coun Dave Ledger, deputy leader of the county council, said: “The council is putting former coalfield communities at the heart of our future plans for growth as part of creating a balanced economy across the county.
“I believe there is real cause for optimism in the former coalfields and increasingly we can look to a future that is not defined by but always remembers and celebrates the legacy of our industrial heritage.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 17 Nov 2014
The number of impoverished households has more than doubled in the 30 years since Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister, the largest study of deprivation ever conducted in the UK has concluded.
The research found that rises in the cost of living mean a full-time job is no longer enough to prevent some people from falling into poverty. One in every six adults in paid work is now defined as “poor“.
Last night the Government’s poverty tsar Frank Field said the study’s stark findings proved the Coalition’s approach to the problem “isn’t working” and called for the leaders of all political parties to make manifesto pledges to reverse the rise.
The Poverty and Social Exclusion project, based on interviews with more than 14,500 people in Britain and Northern Ireland carried out by eight universities and two research agencies, reported:
- More than 500,000 children live in families who cannot afford to feed them properly
- 18 million people cannot afford adequate housing conditions
- 12 million people are too poor to engage in common social activities
- About 5.5 million adults go without essential clothing
The survey showed that the percentage of UK households which lacked “three or more of the basic necessities of life” has increased from 14 per cent in 1983 (around 3 million), to 33 per cent (around 8.7 million) in 2012, despite the size of the economy doubling in that period. Researchers used the “three or more” formula as it is directly comparable with methods used to study poverty and deprivation in 1983.
Academics said the findings dispelled the myth that poverty is caused by a lack of work or by people shirking work. Almost half the “employed poor” were clocking up 40 hours a week in work or more.
Professor David Gordon of the Townsend Centre for International Poverty Research at the University of Bristol, which led the project, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, said the Government’s strategy of tackling the root causes of poverty had “clearly failed”.
> Arguably, the Government’s strategy has been directed towards increasing the root causes of poverty.
Mr Field, the Labour MP who was tasked by David Cameron to examine poverty in 2010, said the study “sadly emphasises that working doesn’t now eliminate a family’s poverty”.
> Can’t help feeling Field cries crocodile tears… his views on the poor and how to make them suffer even more often seem to rival Iain Duncan Smith‘s.
A DWP spokesman said: “There is strong evidence that incomes have improved over the last 30 years, despite the misleading picture painted by this report. The independent statistics are clear, there are 1.4 million fewer people in poverty since 1998, and under this Government we have successfully protected the poorest from falling behind.”
Unfortunately that spokesman was unnamed.
Read the full story in the Independent
Source – Benefits & Work, 20 June 2014
Shocking new figures show that the North is the anti-depressant capital of Britain.
The region takes up six of the top 10 places in England for use of the drugs, with poverty and deprivation being blamed for the widespread problems with people’s mental health.
NHS data shows doctors here prescribe more anti-depressants per head than anywhere else in the country, with more than one million prescriptions handed out in the last three months of last year.
In the former industrial heartland of East Durham there are 45 prescriptions for every 100 patients – the second highest rate in the country.
And six of the 10 most-prescribing areas are in the North East, including Sunderland, Gateshead, South Tees, Newcastle West, and North Durham.
Mental health charities said depression and anxiety were strongly tied to deprivation, with some laying the blame at the government’s door. Easington MP Grahame Morris, a member of the Commons Health Select Committee, said: “We’re fighting a rearguard action to protect our community.
“I see in my surgeries every week people displaying symptoms of anxiety, stress and depression as a consequence of the government’s policies.
“I had a gentleman come to see me on Friday who was 60-years-old, had worked from being 15, and he’d had to give it up due to a crumbling spine.
“He’d been put in a fit for work category when he couldn’t walk for 20 paces, and his benefits were suspended for eight months while the appeal is heard.
“There’s a definite link between the Government’s policies of austerity and welfare reform and the impact it’s having on people’s mental health.”
Doctors in Sunderland made 41.2 prescriptions for every 100 people in the area, while Gateshead gave out 40.7.
Other badly affected areas included Salford, St Helens, Barnsley and Blackpool – all former industrial areas. Richard Colwill, from the mental health charity SANE, said the figures should be treated “with caution” because they might be inflated by repeat patients for drugs which are used for a range of other conditions.
But he argued they “should be no surprise” because of the strong links between depression and “unemployment, debt and homelessness”.
He said: “SANE’s own experience suggests that it is not only the high demand for treatment that is concerning, but also the dwindling supply.
“The Government’s relentless agenda to cut expensive community and inpatient services often leaves healthcare professionals with little to offer other than medication.”
Paul Farmer, chief executive of mental health charity Mind, said: “We know that reforms to the welfare system are taking their toll on the mental health of many people. Depression can affect anyone, regardless of background, but there are certain factors that can increase the risk of someone developing depression.
“Unemployment, financial difficulties, a problematic housing situation and physical health problems can all put stress on people, which in turn can lead to mental health problems.”
A spokeswoman for clinical commissioning groups in the North East said: “It’s well-known that poverty and mental health are linked, just as poor housing and mental health are linked.
“As the North East has some of the highest areas of deprivation in the country, it’s not surprising that there are higher numbers of people who need support for mental health issues.
“It’s important that people realise that while sometimes medication is required, there are alternatives for those with mild to moderate depression or anxiety.
“Talking therapies work very well and can act more quickly than perhaps antidepressants or other medical treatments.”
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said: “Our welfare reforms will improve the lives of some of the poorest families in our communities, with the Universal Credit making three million households better off.
“We have also expanded the ESA Support Group so greater numbers of people with a mental health condition now qualify for the benefit.
“We are transforming the lives of the poorest in society and bringing common sense back to the welfare system – so that we can continue to support people when they need it most right across Britain.”
> But then, they always say that… whatever the question was.
Source – Newcastle Evening chronicle 20 April 2014
Arts funding must not be limited to groups inside the golden circle of the M25, the wife of playwright Lee Hall has said.
Baroness Beeban Kidron, the director behind films such as Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason and Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, has called on the Government to ensure the North sees a legally binding share of arts funding.
The peer was one of many speaking out following a report last year that showed half of the Arts Council England funding budget went to London, as well as some 90% of the £450m Department for Culture, Media and Sport budget.
This means the capital gets £69 of cultural spending per head, compared with just £4.50 in the rest of England.
Alongside this, 45% of National Lottery arts cash goes to London.
Baroness Kidron, whose husband led efforts to reverse council arts cuts in Newcastle, said that just four institutions in the capital receive more lottery funding than the 33 local authorities which are home to six million people at the bottom of their funding list.
She added: “These local authorities are predominantly, although not exclusively, in the North, but they all cover areas that are already challenged by other symptoms of deprivation and where current and prospective local authority cuts are biting most deeply.”
Speaking before members of the House of Lords, she called for the Government to make funding for the arts “a legal requirement” and to give local authorities the resources to fulfil that requirement.
She said that “talent is not centred in London, appreciation is not centred in London, the need to see oneself reflected in our world is not centred in London” and made the point that the national and international reputation of excellence in the creative arts started with individuals and groups in towns and cities across the UK .
“If we withdraw funding now we decimate the art and artists of the future,” the peer said.
“Starving the ecosystem of the tiny, the local, the experimental, the site-specific and the amateur groups, or insisting that this same list become little businesses, will simply kill the juggernaut of British theatre which has conquered Broadway and beyond.
“Could not Her Majesty’s Government consider making arts funding a legal requirement of local authorities and provide the resources to support that requirement, in order that we do not decimate arts provision outside the golden circle of the M25 and, in doing so, deprive ourselves of the artists and art of the future?”
Jane Tarr, director for the North at the Arts Council England said that the organisation is a “national champion for the arts and culture all over the country”.
“However, we’re not the biggest investor in culture in this country.
“With organisations like the National Glass Centre, The Baltic, The Sage and MIMA it’s clear that the North East is home to some world class arts and culture organisations – the result of very successful partnerships between the Arts Council, local authorities and higher education.”
Source – Newcastle Journal 14 Feb 2014