Hidden Dorset: the call for change long overdue

Philip Alston’s Report

I’m reading Walter Greenwood’s classic and heart-breaking novel, Love on the Dole – it’s set in the 1930’s, in the north of England, and tells the stories of ordinary working men and women, whose lives are blighted by poverty and chronic unemployment. It’s a cry of outrage against an economic and social system which blights lives and crushes spirits.

Reading it, I think of Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, and of his Report, presented to the Human Rights Council of the UN in 2019. (1)

It makes appalling reading for anyone with humanity and a social conscience. It was no wonder that the Report was dismissed by the Conservative Government and neo-Liberal think tanks. (2)

A social calamity and economic disaster rolled into one

Despite the UK being the world’s fifth largest economy, one fifth of the population – 14 million people – were reported as living in poverty, and 1.5 as living in destitution.

Close to 40 percent of children were predicted to living in poverty by 2021.

Professor Alston writes: For almost one in every two children to be poor in twenty-first century Britain would not just be a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster rolled into one”.

 

Pic: Foodbank donations

Professor Marmot’s Review

December 2020 saw the publication of “Build Back Fairer: The Covid 19 Marmot review”. (3)

Professor Marmot concluded that social and economic inequalities before the pandemic contributed to its high and unequal death toll – the disproportionate mortality rate for the BAME population, for those living in crowded, multi-generational households, and for those who could not afford to isolate.

The Review also made clear that reducing health inequalities, “including those exacerbated by the pandemic … (required) … long term policies with equity at … (their) … heart”. (3)

There are so many dire metrics which indicate growing inequality and poverty: reduced life expectancy, increased infant mortality, proliferation of food banks, increased numbers of rough sleepers, growing homelessness, ill health – the list is ever growing.

Free School Meals

With reference to the recent free school meals furore, UK Gov Find and Compare Schools data indicates significant numbers of students eligible for free school meals in South Dorset – 225 for Swanage and Langton Matravers in the 6 years up to the school year 2018-19. (4)

South Dorset’s MP, Richard Grosvenor Plunkett Ernle Drax, whose family’s wealth was derived from slavery, inevitably voted against the Labour Motion regarding Free School Meals over the last half term – perhaps symbolically, the wall around Charborough Park is the longest estate wall in England

Dorset’s shame

The South Dorset Constituency has the lowest social mobility of all 533 English Parliamentary Constituencies (5)

In 2017 average weekly wages in Weymouth and Portland were the lowest in the country. (6)

I know from my own experience as a Secondary Headteacher in Bournemouth how leafy streets and sunny seafronts may mask poverty and social need – Dorset, with its beaches and pretty villages is sadly no different

WeyPAW’s findings – a county in crisis

The work of WeyPAW – Weymouth and Portland Action on Wages – has revealed in detail the metrics of inequality in Dorset.

Two conferences, held in 2018 and 2019, featured national figures, including Professor Danny Dorling in 2018 and Professor Jane Millar in 2019, highlighted the challenges faced by the county.

Key indicators highlighted at the 2019 Conference showed differences in life expectancy between prosperous areas and those characterised by deprivation: for example, males in Melcombe live almost 10 years than men in neighbouring Preston.

30% of children across Weymouth and Portland lived in poverty, rising in Weymouth East to 39%, in Melcombe Regis to 39% and in Underhill to 40%

Portland had highest level of child poverty in the South West

Children living in Weymouth and Portland had the highest levels of obesity in Dorset:  amongst youngest children (entering Reception) levels of obesity greatly exceeded national averages.

Amongst adults, rates of obesity, diabetes, sexually transmitted infections, mental ill-health and self-harm all exceeded national averages.

Making use of the Index of National Deprivation, of the 12 local areas in Dorset within the top 20% most deprived in the UK, 9 were in Weymouth and Portland. (7)

The times call for change

Making Dorset a community offering opportunity for all, and addressing its inequalities, will demand bold, imaginative and humane policies and ways of thinking.

Both locally and nationally, the times call for change. It is long overdue.

Chris Bradey

Notes

(1)https://undocs.org/pdf?symbol=en/A/HRC/41/39/Add.1

(2) For example: Philip Hammond’s response: “I reject the idea that there are vast numbers of people facing dire poverty in this country. I don’t accept the UN rapporteur’s report at all. I think that’s a nonsense. Look around you, that’s not what we see in this country”

https://www.bigissue.com/latest/philip-hammond-cant-see-the-uk-poverty-brought-up-in-un-report/

“Britain is a place where some have more than others, most certainly. That’s known as inequality. Britain doesn’t actually have any – at all – of what we globally call poverty and it most certainly doesn’t have any destitution”

https://www.adamsmith.org/blog/why-we-shouldnt-believe-a-word-of-philip-alstons-un-report-on-poverty-in-the-uk

(3) https://www.health.org.uk/publications/build-back-fairer-the-covid-19-marmot-review

(4) https://www.compare-school-performance.service.gov.uk/schools-by-type?step=default&table=schools&region=all-england&for=primary

(5) House of Commons Library, Briefing Paper, CBP 8400, 15 October 2018, Social Mobility Index by Constituency, England

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/328902938_Social_Mobility_Index_by_Constituency_SMIC

(6) Dorset Echo, 27 October 2017

(7) http://www.weypaw.org.uk/weypaw-campaign/weypaw-conference-materials/

BRIEFING PAPER