In Horden – a former mining village in County Durham, Paula Snowdon, runs the Hub House, a community centre, and she describes malnourished families begging for food. “Most had received benefit sanctions and were basically starving when they came to us,” she said. Others turned up wanting little more than a chat. “We had individuals who hadn’t spoken to another person for days, sometimes weeks. Solitude is a major issue.”
Some asked only to sit on the Hub’s sofa; private landlords lease homes without furniture in the numbered streets, forcing many tenants to live without the luxury of settees. Some arrived seeking refuge from the network of drug dealers that has infested the village: one resident on Eleventh Street counts six dealers among its 54 red-bricked properties. Yet what astonished Snowdon most was the prevalence of mental illness.
“The actual way of life around here causes problems. I would say that 85% have a mental health illness such as anxiety and depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder. Children are born into deprivation and high unemployment: people feel forgotten about.” Paula explained.
Britain’s former coal regions have 5.5 million people living in them, one in 12 of Britain’s population. Collectively, the communities in 16 former coalfields are statistically distinct from the rest of the UK, with significantly higher levels of deprivation, illness and unemployment. In these former mining regions, 7.9% of the population – nearly 440,000 people – claim disability benefits, compared with 5.6% nationally and 4.3% in the south-east. Employment opportunities have yet to fully replace the jobs lost in the collieries, with 14% of adults in the coalfields out of work and on benefits, 40% higher than the national average. Across the coalfields, there are 50 jobs for every 100 residents of working age compared with 80 in the south-east. Life expectancy in coalfield areas is around a year less than the national average.
In Horden data collated three months ago found that 4,985 of its 7,585 population were categorised as being among the most deprived 20% of England. Four in 10 Hordenites have zero qualifications compared with 22% across England, while the proportion living in poverty is 39%, double the rate across England. A third of the housing stock lies boarded up on Twelfth Street or has been converted into drug dens. Two years ago, a local housing association offered to sell 130 Horden homes to Durham council for £1 each. The council turned the offer down.
Paula Snowdon commented “People want to aspire to do better. You just need to give them hope.”
SOYMB blog suggests that the only real hope is socialism.