Gary Ellis: The national statistics on unemployment are hard to digest for many, but for coalfield communities these are devastating
Once again, national findings have revealed concerns around the huge disparities between our wealthiest and poorest communities. The recent Marmot Review detailed the impact of austerity on the nation’s health, and just this week, Centre for Cities revealed that competition for jobs has risen the most in weaker economies; those places where work was already hard to find.
These facts are hard to digest for many. Still, for coalfield communities, this is yet another blow to those people that already struggle to compete for jobs; those that bear the brunt of economic downturn and the problems associated with the highest levels of deprivation – not just with health and wellbeing but also skills and employment.
These findings are not concerning they are devastating.
As an organisation founded to support and improve the quality of life for the 5.7m people living in former coalfields, we have first-hand knowledge of the impact that austerity has.
The recent findings on the UK’s levels of unemployment highlight that more candidates are competing for fewer roles and that those with low skills will struggle even more. Prior to Covid-19, even before vacancies were cut and jobs lost, there were only 50 positions for every 100 adults of working age in coalfields.
14 per cent of adults of working age in the coalfields were out of work on benefits; this equated to nearly half a million people! This is compounded further by the fact that 20 per cent of adults of working age in England and Wales and 31 per cent of adults of working age in Scotland have no qualifications – that’s 750,000 people!
While the impact of Covid-19 on the job market is said to have widened geographic inequality, its effects on coalfields – those former mining areas that remain within the 30 per cent most deprived in the country, where austerity has prevented social progress in many respects – have been disproportionately amplified.
Places such as Barnsley, Rotherham and Doncaster have been struggling for decades to get back on their feet after the decimation caused by the closure of the mining industry. We have made some significant progress, but this has been hampered by recessions, austerity and a lack of funding.
Without significant support, it is clear the Covid-19 pandemic will continue to propel our communities into even more challenging circumstances, of which the recovery period would be monumentally difficult to overcome. Now, our services regarding employment, skills and health and well-being are more critical than ever. But, due to funding constraints, we are unable to provide the scale of support to deliver a lasting impact both for now and generations to come.
To begin to tackle these significant social, economic and health challenges facing coalfield communities and reduce the inequalities, we need more than ‘levelling up’ from the government; efforts need to be focused and funds found to deliver the support required.
That is why we are calling on Government to create a dedicated Coalfields Investment Fund, which will allow us to scale-up our activities and to continue to work in the forgotten communities that need our support the most. With our focused support and by working in partnership with other service providers, we can deliver help in the areas where it is needed the most.
By improving employment rates, increasing skills and developing health and well-being programmes, we can ensure coalfield communities make a real contribution to the economic growth and prosperity of the UK.
We cannot allow our communities hit hardest by the economic challenges to face the same struggles time and time again. We have to learn from past mistakes and invest in them to create a positive future.”