Wednesday, March 19, 2008

9 Moorside Road

[WARNING: this is another post that's turned out much longer than planned]

9 Moorside Road seems in pretty good nick, and it's got a larger than average garden. Worth a viewing? You bet! Round our way you couldn't buy a dog kennel for £82 grand.

Just one small thing I possibly ought to mention before you phone the agent: this is Moorside Road, Dewsbury. Yes, the same Moorside Road Dewsbury where your immediate neighbours would include Shannon Matthews' family. Still keen?

Of course, everyone's delighted that Shannon has been found. It's one of the few cases where a headline child disappearance hasn't ended in tragedy. Thank God.

But round our way, that isn't what people are talking about. Round our way, everyone's clucking about her family circumstances, five siblings by different fathers and all. And those neighbours we met at the street celebrations afterwards.

Yes, I know. We're all snooty Southerners cloistered in leafy Surrey, and we have no idea how real flesh and blood people on council estates up North live.


But look, I spent my childhood on a council estate. And it just wasn't like that. For a start I can't remember any families that weren't man, wife, and pretty well behaved kids (all right, I can remember a couple where the boys got into the odd spot of trouble).

So what exactly goes on in an area like Moorside Road? I took a look at the statistics, to see if I could find out.

According to the local paper this is "one of most deprived areas in the country". That conclusion is based on a giant number crunching exercise carried out by the Department for Communities and Local Government and known as the Index of Deprivation 2007.

In ID2007speak, Moorside Road is part of Level 1 Super Output Area E01011025 (not a joke- that is what the Commissars have reduced it to). And on DCLG's calculations, its deprivation percentile ranking is 11.2%- ie only 11.2% of all Britain's 32,000 Super Output Areas are more deprived. So Moorside Road is right down at the bottom (even if it is a cut above its near Dewsbury neighbour E01011141, whose percentile ranking is 0.6%- ie 99.4% of the country is better placed than its residents are).

So what makes it deprived?

Is it money? You might think so, because otherwise why would the government spend so much trying to make poverty history?

We haven't got an exact number for incomes in Super Output Area E01011025, but in the broader ward area, Kirklees Council puts average household income at £27,300 pa, 19% below the GB average of £33,700.

Is a 19% income shortfall deprivation? I guess you might argue so, but in truth, £27,300 pa is hardly the breadline.

So what about the other indicators (see ONS collection here)?

Crime is one where the area scores badly: burglary, criminal damage, and crimes of violence are all much higher than the national averages, and overall crime is more than one-third above the average.

Education is another pretty shocking area, with only about half of school pupils obtaining 5 GCSEs (including Maths) at any grade, compared to around 90% nationally. And 44% of the adult population have no qualifications, compared to 28% nationally.

Another big difference is in working for a living. Unemployment and "incapacity" together account for around 13% of the adult population not working, compared to 8% nationally. Add in another 4% for lone parents (see below) not working, and we've got around 17% of the working age population being supported by the state rather than earning their own way. That's about 70% higher than the national average.

Against that background it's not surprising that welfare payments make up a good proportion of the community's income. 23% of the working age population claim a "key benefit" (cf 14% nationally), including 4% on Jobseekers Allowance, and 10% on Incapacity Benefit. Income support claimants, at 10% of the population, are three times the national average, and Housing and Council Tax Benefit claimants (14%) are more than 50% above average.

Overall, 27% of the local population live in households in receipt of one or more of the following benefits: Income based Jobseeker's Allowance, Income Support, Working Families' Tax Credit, Disabled Person's Tax Credit, and Asylum Support Service.

These are big slices of the population dependent on welfare. But in fairness to Super Output Area E01011025, we should note it's not one of the real hotspots, where up to three-quarters of the working age population live on benefits:

Moorside has one other big difference from the national averages: family structure. Lone parent families make up 14% of households, compared to 6% nationally. A further 5% of households are cohabiting - but unmarried - couples with children (ie like Shannon's family); nationally, that's 3%.

So what should we make of it all? Apart that is, from pulling our hair out.

This is clearly an area with big problems- crime, educational underachievement, unemployment, and family dysfunction. But what can we do?

Money has been tried. As noted above, including al those welfare benefits, average incomes are only 19% below the national average. Yet living costs must be much lower- a house for £82 grand compares to a national average price well over twice that (see this blog for more on regional cost differences).

What's more, public money has also been pushed into the usual slew of regeneration schemes. There's currently a £3.5m "Pathfinder" project which has set up a range of stuff, including youth services, community groups and adult learning. But it's flopped. Roger O'Doherty, its manager says: "We have been very successful in our work with the local community but it is a long, slow job" (translation: we've ticked all the boxes the commissars ordered, but it hasn't made a blind bit of difference).

He goes on: "Unless there is work in the future the most deprived areas will remain the most deprived areas."

And there he's hit the nail on the head. As the world and his wife now agree, work is the only real way forward. But it's easy to say, hard to do.

So here are some suggestions:

  1. Freeze welfare benefits, especially the reward for having children: welfare should not be an attractive career choice
  2. Freeze the minimum wage: Brown likes to brag how the minimum wage has not destroyed jobs, but in areas like the poor end of Dewsbury a national minimum wage almost certainly means unskilled low-end labour cannot find work

There could be jobs, but not at the pay rates set by welfare scales and the minimum wage. Without that competition, local employers Jay-Be Beds could cut their costs and surely expand their workforce beyond its current 235. UPS Haulfast could expand beyond 300. And William S. Graham would surely sell more far more carpet yarn if it could cut its prices.

Next time we contemplate voting for a bigger welfare state, I suggest we think very carefully about the residents of Moorside Road.


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