Friday, June 20, 2014

News: The state of the coalfields

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Regeneration in former coalfield areas like Rotherham is happening, but on many indicators they lag badly behind national and regional averages.

30 years on from the events at Orgreave, a new report by academics from Sheffield Hallam University takes stock of social and economic conditions in former coalfields. Commissioned by regeneration organisation, the Coalfields Regeneration Trust, the report looks at a wide range of official statistics in 16 coalfield areas, including Yorkshire.

The fact is that, the UK coal industry has shed around 250,000 jobs since the start of the 1980s, often adding to substantial pre-existing unemployment problems. It is estimated that 10,000 jobs were lost in the Dearne Valley alone.

In many areas, the job growth in other sectors of the local economy had, by 2008, been sufficient to offset all the coal job losses. The old Wath ward alone experienced an increase of 10,000 jobs since 1998.

However, the report's authors argue that the recorded unemployment in the coalfields was held in check only by the very large increase in economic inactivity and people moving to incapacity benefits (8.4% claim IB in coalfield areas compared to 6.2% GB average and 4.4% in the south east of England).

The report states: "The evidence on pre-recession trends is that there was real progress in rebuilding the economy of the coalfields but that the unemployment problem was still a long way from being solved."

Since 2008, figures in the report suggest that coalfield areas were on average hit rather harder than the national average by the recession, with reductions in employment and economic output.

The employment rate – the share of adults of working age in employment – is one of the most telling of all statistics. The rate, excluding students, in coalfields is between two and seven percentage points behind the England and Wales average, and between five and ten percentage points behind the average in South East England.

The report also shows that coalfield areas have higher proportions of workers with few or no formal qualifications and the business stock and business formation rates in the coalfields are significantly lower than the rest of the country. The effect of being adrift of the national average on many indicators is that, on average, the coalfields have significantly above-average levels of deprivation.

Professor Steve Fothergill from the University's Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research, who led the research, said: "The miners' strike of 1984/85 may now be receding into history but the job losses that followed in its wake are still part of the everyday economic reality of most mining communities.

"The consequences are still all too visible in statistics on jobs, unemployment, welfare benefits and health.

"The evidence provides a compelling case that most of the coalfield communities of England, Scotland and Wales still require support."

Peter McNestry Chair of the Coalfields Regeneration Trust, added: "This report really brings home the scale of the deprivation that has been faced by 5.5 million people, more than Scotland’s total population. What’s more, these coalfields communities have had to endure this for well over a quarter of a century.

"The tough reality for coalfields residents is that these problems will not go away overnight."

"We cannot simply turn our backs on more than 5 million people. 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."

Coalfields Regeneration Trust

Images: RiDO

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