By Mark Wallace
Follow Mark on Twitter.
A new report from the Centre for Social Justice, Turning the Tide, explores the troubling wave of poverty engulfing numerous seaside towns, which have fallen from their former position as prosperous holiday destinations.
The CSJ's findings show exactly how serious the problem has become:
- "Of the 20 neighbourhoods across the UK with the highest levels of working-age people on out-of-work benefits, seven are in coastal towns…"
- "In one part of Rhyl, two thirds of working-age people are dependent on out-of-work benefits"
- "…coastal towns are among the most educationally deprived in the whole country. Some 41 per cent of adults in Clacton have no qualifications, almost double the national average for England and Wales."
- "Of the 10 wards in England and Wales with the highest rates of teenage pregnancy, four are in seaside towns"
- Blackpool local authority has the highest rate of children in care in the whole of England – 150 per 10,000 population – far exceeding the English average of 59."
Such issues are not unique to the seaside, but as a class of towns they share a remarkable number of symptoms regardless of location. As ConHome's recent feature on the topic found, there is an urgent need for the Conservative Party and the Government to address the issues faced by the British seaside.
It was bad enough for former tourist resorts and fishing towns to see the rise of the package holiday and the devastation brought by the EU's Common Fisheries Policy. But those were the beginning, not the end, of the coast's problems.
Today's report explores the way in which poverty attracts further poverty, with some local authorities using collapsing house prices and converted guest houses to make the seaside a "dumping ground" for the vulnerable, the poor and the long term unemployed.
That numerous such towns are represented by Conservative MPs – such as Brandon Lewis in Great Yarmouth and Douglas Carswell in Clacton – offers unique insights into how these issues might be addressed. But we can only get such insights, and have time to act on them, if the party takes an interest.
As we recommended at the start of July, there are three steps that must be taken to get the process started:
- Instead of simply pairing coastal PPCs with a nearby MP as their mentor, seek to pair them with a sitting coastal MP who can share more relevant knowledge
- Treat coastal seats as a distinct group within the "40/40" marginal seats – both in terms of the policy challenges they face and in terms of analysing their new Mosaic demographic data to understand the electoral features they have in common
- Establish a group within the Conservative Parliamentary Party specifically made up of coastal MPs, to raise the pressure on Ministers to address their shared issues
The CSJ's findings make this all the more urgent.