Academics reveal that poverty in Weymouth & Portland is taking economy ‘off a cliff’

Following a conference in Weymouth on Saturday 28th September in which distinguished academics and GP’s presented very disturbing quantitative and qualitative data to reveal the desperate situation that Weymouth & Portland is in economically and socially it was announced that Weymouth & Portland Action on Wages will now present to the Executive Advisory Panel on Social Mobility. This was set up by Dorset Council in July to address issues of poverty and social mobility, focusing on South Dorset. They now await the formulation of council policy on social mobility in the area.

One of the key findings is that the local economy in Weymouth & Portland has dramatically declined in the last 10 years and without intervention across the community the future for the borough will only get considerably bleaker.

Professor Jane Millar of Bath University, Dr Kambiz Boomlah, Dr Anna Livingstone, Philip Marfleet and Giovanna Lewis all participated in not only revealing the current empirical situation but also solutions to both the micro and macro experiences locally.

The data and detailed research identified:

Overview 

Weymouth &Portland not unique but experiences a cluster of problems – ‘multiple deprivation’.

Not worst absolute poverty but continuous downward pressure on living standards and well-being.

One outcome: South Dorset now 533rd of 533 parliamentary constituencies in England for “social mobility” – measured by life chances of disadvantaged children.

Years of denial by local authorities – now they confront ‘Dorset’s Shame’.

Population W&P: approx. 70,000; employment: 27,000 jobs.

Low incomes – high costs

Wages: average weekly gross, 2017: £283.40 (median). ONS reports as lowest average weekly wage in the UK (never corrected!)

Housing – cost of houses in Weymouth & Portland = eleven times average annual income per head (2017). Average for the UK = eight times annual income.

Average house price Weymouth now £275,746 (less in Portland)

Council Tax second-highest in UK – £2,000+ (band D property)

Wages crisis reflects economic decline since 1990s (Portland Dockyard closed 1996, contraction of engineering, mechanisation of quarrying): collapse in skilled employment

Problems shared with other coastal communities but Weymouth & ortlandP decline more rapid: 2007 to 2017 Weymouth & Portland economy contracted by 13 per cent. Only one other coastal area in the UK (Inverclyde) recorded a higher rate of decline

Social Market Foundation: economy is “falling off a cliff”

Reflected in index of national deprivation: of 12 local areas in Dorset within top 20 per cent most deprived in the UK, nine are in Weymouth and Portland

Many markers of deprivation: 30% of children across Weymouth & Portland live in poverty, rising to Weymouth East 39%, Melcombe Regis 39%, Underhill 40%

Portland has highest level of child poverty in the South West

Childhood obesity: children in Weymouth & Portland have the highest levels of obesity in Dorset; among youngest children (entering Reception) Weymouth & Portland greatly exceeds national average

Among adults, rates of obesity, diabetes, sexually transmitted infections, mental ill-health and self-harm all exceed national averages

Poverty, ill-health

  • Life expectancy in Dorset for men (80.3 years) and women (82.8 years) is higher than the England average – 79.5. But for men in Weymouth & Portland it’s 78.5 years compared (women 83.4 years compared to 83.1 for England)
  • Alcohol-related deaths reduce expectancy nationally for men by 12 months but in W&P by 19 months. For women, national average reduction is 5.6 months; in W&P it’s 9.5 months. W&P eighth highest for men nationally; fifth highest for women
  • The suicide rate is almost off the scale for England

Local inequality: pattern similar to major cities: e.g. East End of London/City of London. Stark contrast poorest areas – Melcombe, Litlemoor, Westham, Underhill – with more prosperous – Preston, Broadway

Men in Melcombe live almost 10 years less than men in neighbouring Preston

  • After years of funding cuts all four secondary schools in Weymouth & Portland have fallen below the Progress 8 for standard: all have been in ‘special measures’
  • only 46 per cent of children in South Dorset eligible for Free School Meals (FSM) achieved “a good level of development” at the end of the Foundation Stage of education (Early Years)
  • only 28 per cent of children in South Dorset eligible for FSM achieved the expected national level of achievement at the end of Key Stage 4 (Secondary Education)

Education & Social Mobility

  • Combined with figures for average income these results placed South Dorset (parliamentary constituency) bottom of the national index for social mobility (533 of 533 in England)
  • Former Chief Executive of Dorset County Council: “Dorset’s Shame”
  • And – Weymouth & Portland has a lower score on all measures than the average for South Dorset. W&P is below the foor for social mobility in the UK.

Income poverty at core of multiple deprivation All UK, 7% jobs in “leisure” sector: in W&P >20%

Leisure: hotels, holidays camps, caravan camps, restaurants, cafes, fast-food outlets, pubs, amusements

Low Pay Unit, Resolution Foundation, Unpaid Britain – “leisure” key sector for delinquent/rogue employers.

Jobs crisis

Delinquent employers: pay below National Minimum Wage; default on Equal Pay; undertake wage theft; fail to provide contract; wage slip, holiday pay

In Weymouth & Portland, 25% of all jobs paid less than the Real Living Wage (£9 per hour); 55% of these jobs are part-time, most female employees. Zero-hours contracts common

Local economy characterised by low wages and climate of impunity for rogue employers (as in conduct of First Bus, Weymouth). Special problems for youth

Dorset County Council – in denial (response to questions); new Dorset Council has established a panel.

As all of this evidence reveals the situation is dire and getting worse. Local children are being denied opportunities and welfare taken for granted elsewhere.

Building new fast food outlets whilst ignoring the plight of local people will only makes a grave situation worse. Fast food is killing many prematurely and stunting child development because of salt and sugar levels.

As a community we must unite to provide what the government and other agencies have continued to ignore. If the local MP will not lift a finger then that only leaves us.