Wakefield's former coalfield sites 'need investment in education'
People living in former coalfield areas are still suffering the devastating effects of colliery closures, a new report has said.
The research by The Coalfields Regeneration Trust found there are fewer jobs, pay is lower and more people have to claim benefits in former coal mining areas.
The Wakefield district had the largest number of collieries in Yorkshire at the beginning of the miners’ strike in 1984 with 16, or 18 if Allerton Bywater and Emley are taken into account.
Trade unionist and chairman of Wakefield’s With Banners Held High march Martyn Richardson said after the pits closed no jobs of equivalent quality came in as a replacement, which damaged the area’s economy from top to bottom.
He said: “The government left former coalfields to the scrapheap by withdrawing people’s livelihoods. Since then government-led austerity has crippled local councils and deprivation has skyrocketed.
“There needs to be investment in education and re-skilling the workforce.
“They say employment is the lowest since the 70s but that doesn’t mean anything if people have to take several jobs or claim in-work benefits just to survive.
“And then people can’t afford to spend on the high street and the high street suffers as a result of that.”
The trust’s research said former coalfields have a combined population of 5.7 million, which is roughly the same as a typical English region and more than the whole of either Scotland or Wales.
It said to raise the employment rate to the level in South East England would require 170,000 additional coalfield residents to be in work.
The number of jobs in the coalfields has increased during the upturn but at only half the rate in the main regional cities and only a third of the rate in London.
While unemployment is well down on peak levels, the coalfields still have significantly higher numbers of people out-of-work on other benefits.
Low earnings have triggered widespread entitlement to Tax Credits, but by 2021 welfare cuts are expected to take a total of £2.4bn a year from coalfield residents. One-in-twelve of the entire population of the coalfields claim Disability Living Allowance or its replacement, Personal Independence Payment.
Professor Steve Fothergill, who led the research at Sheffield Hallam University, said: “If the coalfields had been a region in their own right, all clustered together in one part of the country, the statistics would probably show the former coalfields to be the most deprived region in the UK.
“Whilst there is no question that the former coalfields have benefitted from the upturn the evidence that there has been ‘catching up’ is far less clear. Indeed, on some measures the coalfields are falling further behind.
“While physical aspects of coalfield regeneration have progressed well, the continuing social and economic problems suggest that action and funding across a broad front is still needed for some years to come.”
The trust said how to improve the economic and social situations for former coalfield areas would be a key battleground in a forthcoming general election.
Peter McNestry Chairman of the Coalfields Regeneration Trust, said: “The challenge to all parties who have ambition to govern, is how they plan to address the ongoing issues in the heart of our communities so clearly demonstrated in this latest independent report.
“We are working up proposals with other key partners on what is required to address deep rooted issues around employment, skills and health and wellbeing.
“The commitment we need from politicians is that they will take the necessary action that is so clearly required.”