The Government must turn its levelling up agenda to struggling coastal communities in England, as Ministers are warned that policies risk failing to turnaround decades of inequality.
The report called Communities on the Edge was commissioned by the Coastal Communities Alliance, the Local Government Association Coastal Special Interest Group and the Coastal Partnerships Network.
Ahead of the report launch on Wednesday, it will say that one in five jobs pay below the living wage, with household income £3,000 lower than in non-coastal areas.
Communities on the Edge
In the report, Ministers are warned that the Government’s regional focus on levelling up means “massive challenges” faced by coastal communities are “hidden” and are often overlooked by the Government.
The report says that issues facing such communities have been “years, if not decades” in the making.
“The additional challenges faced by people living on the coast are so entrenched that help is needed from central government to stop them falling further behind.”Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Coastal Communities, Sally-Ann Hart MP
Highlighting the East of England as an example, a region which has the third-highest regional average weekly pay despite parts having some of the lowest earnings in the country.
In coastal communities, the report says:
- A lower proportion of children achieve GCSE qualifications in maths and English, with more truant children.
- Due to high numbers of seasonal and part-time jobs in the tourism sector, or with small firms, many areas have lower wages.
- Due to a lack of council houses in coastal communities, people are left to rely on private rentals where costs are higher.
- More pressure on car ownership owing to poor public transport.
- Coastal areas have higher rates of mental health issues, alcohol-related hospital admissions and emergency admissions for lung conditions.
- Limitations of gigabit broadband and 4G provision causes a “digital divide”.
Commenting on the report’s findings, Sally-Ann Hart MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Coastal Communities, said: “The additional challenges faced by people living on the coast are so entrenched that help is needed from central government to stop them falling further behind.
“Our beautiful coastline is an incredible national asset. But it urgently needs sustainable long-term investment to make the most of the opportunities for growth – particularly in green jobs which can support the government’s climate goals.”
Reducing health inequalities
The report also points to inequalities in respect of education, transport connectivity, broadband and health.
As chair of the Coastal Communities APPG, Sally-Ann Hart sat down with Chief Executive of policy institute, Curia Ben Howlett who was a former MP and Councillor in a seaside town in Essex. Setting out her positive vision for coastal communities, Hart told Howlett “our coastline, seas and coastal communities have challenges, yes, but given the right vision, support and investment, they can be a national resource rather than a problem to solve.”
Citing the 2021 annual report by Chief Medical Officer, Chris Whitty on health disparities in coastal communities, she told Howlett that she should have been appalled by the findings but she actually welcomed it. She said, “it provided an excellent platform to lobby the Government on behalf of her constituents.”
How to do it?
Through changes to the Government’s levelling up criteria and funding formulas, the report says more deprived areas will be targeted, claiming that it “would boost growth and see coastal areas contribute far more to the wider UK economy”.
As highlighted by the Chair of the APPG in the Political Sandbox interview, it recommends helping projects financially over their full lifespan rather than for a short, defined period.
With the transition to green energy, the report also highlights that coastal areas could benefit from hundreds of thousands of highly-skilled, well-paid jobs.
As a result of the pandemic, the report also suggests that new tourist destination management plans that will extend the traditional tourist season beyond the summer would enable all areas to benefit.
In a statement following the publication of the report, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said coastal communities “play a key role in levelling up and we continue to support them to improve their economies.
“Since 2012 we have invested over £229 million through the Coastal Communities Fund to run 359 projects throughout the UK’s rural and coastal communities helping to create jobs and boost businesses.”
A spokesperson at the Department added Levelling Up funding of £2.1 billion announced earlier this year – to be shared across more than 100 places nationally – would help “to create better-paid jobs and spread opportunity right across the country”.
The potential of coastal communities have been overlooked for decades.
The pandemic resulted in millions of people across the country forced to take their holidays in the UK, with thousands of families relocating to coastal communities. However, as the pandemic fades into memory, coastal communities are once again back in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.
As highlighted by the Chief Medical Officer’s report, you are more likely to be impacted by serious healthcare inequalities if you live in a coastal community than an inland one.
This week’s report will re-highlight many of the issues that are commonly known. However, the big question for policy makers is what they are going to do to enact change.
This is not an easy problem to fix and will require multiple layers of Government to enable change. That is why Sally-Ann Hart’s proposition for a Minister with specific responsibilities is interesting. Given the millions of people who are left behind by levelling up in coastal communities, a Minister with the authority to bring all parts of government together would help.
The Government has put millions into levelling up, however this report sets out why this strategy will always fail without institutional reform through new funding formulas and long-term support.
Ahead of its report on Wednesday, we must all think about how to make policy change a reality across the system – otherwise this report will become a wasted opportunity.
Curia’s Levelling Up Commission
Policy institute Curia is reviewing the findings of the report and will use the recommendations as part of their plans to implement an implementation plan for the effective delivery of levelling up in communities across the UK.