Cities have come to embody how we think about deprivation and poverty in the UK. Yet some of the most pronounced disadvantage in our country exists away from the big cities. This short study of five seaside towns – Rhyl, Margate, Clacton-on-Sea, Blackpool, Great Yarmouth – offers a glimpse of how social breakdown has affected some smaller communities, asks what factors continue to hold them back, and considers what more can be done to help them move on.
The report finds evidence of charities, schools and councils working hard in these towns to try and overcome the ingrained disadvantage which has resulted from the decline in British bucket-and-spade holidays.
The rise of cheap foreign travel from the 1970s saw many seaside towns hit hard. Economies that already had the disadvantage of being highly seasonal were hit by a permanent loss of business and jobs that deprived local people of work. The CSJ has heard of families experiencing two, three or even four generations of worklessness. This entrenched unemployment has drained aspirations. Some local employers have told us that they struggle to find people with the skills or motivation to take up jobs. Schools have told us how a loss of hope amongst parents has affected educational achievement and family stability – of the ten wards in England and Wales with the highest rates of teenage pregnancy, four are in seaside towns.
Cheap property has meant that some councils have used seaside towns to house vulnerable groups such as children in care and ex-offenders. Similarly some towns have seen high numbers of economically inactive people, such as young, unemployed people and pensioners, move in to take advantage of low-cost property. These influxes have placed an additional burden on already stretched services.
Despite these challenges the CSJ has heard that charities, schools and councils are making huge efforts to deal with these problems and that the towns themselves have enormous potential. The report sets out some examples of their excellent work and points to some further measures that need to be taken to help towns recover by helping people develop skills, move into work and build stable families. The CSJ will revisit these themes as part of its Breakthrough Britain II research.