Conference Examines the Consequences of Inequality and Brexit in Weymouth & Portland

Following extremely disturbing data coming out over the last year or so about the economic strife many of the people of Weymouth & Portland are in a concerned group of people decided to organise an event in which experts and local people could interact and learn from each other as to the extent, consequences and some possible solutions.

As the article below highlights to be a borough with such a dubious distinction one would suppose that many or most of the population including local political figures would want to do something to change this. Unfortunately this is not the case. As was reported at the beginning of this conference every councillor was contacted along with both sitting MP’s messrs Richard Drax and Oliver Letwin, back in May of this year, inviting them to help with the planning.

Not one councillor responded (although a small number did attend) and both MP’s refused point blank. What does this say? We will leave that to you dear reader.

Weymouth and Portland has the dubious distinction of having the lowest average weekly wages in the country

Poverty wages in Weymouth and Portland – why won’t our MPs address the issues? 

Having said all this those who did attend were ebullient in their praise for what was a wonderful opportunity to learn, interact and share.

The main topics for the day were:

  • the effect of low wages on women (in particular)
  • the extent and consequences of poverty
  • the consequences of Brexit for the local area
  • local housing needs

Many other issues and topics were of course also covered less formally.

The first session was presented by Eva Herman, a Phd student from Manchester University.

Her first opportunity to speak to mostly lay people and not academics, she explained how perceptions of gender identity plays a crucial role in how we respond to the needs of women and men. Since the 1950’s women have been specifically configured as carers who should only work once their domestic roles have been completed. In the world of work women thus become an appendage to the man in relation to household incomes.

This has also impacted upon the regulations controlling the welfare state in that access for women is complicated by men being seen as the main wage earner and their individuality denied them by the state.

As a consequence the access to rights at work has been diminished as more and more women have taken up paid work roles.

Significant data was taken from the KPMG Living Wage Report 2017

Some of the key findings being:
• Around 3.1 million part-time employees earn less than the Living Wage,
compared with 2.4 million full-time workers.
Women are concentrated in part time jobs largely as a result of their gendered roles.
• Part-time jobs are around three times more likely to pay below the Living
Wage than full-time roles (42% versus 13%).
• Sales & retail assistants make up the largest number of jobs earning less
than the Living Wage (around 740,000).
Dominated by females.
• Bar staff are the most likely to be paid less than the Living Wage (86%).
• By region, the proportion of workers earning below the Living Wage is
highest in Northern Ireland at 26% and lowest in the South East (17%).
• Around 3.4 million females earn less than the Living Wage – significantly
more than the 2.1 million males earning below the Living Wage.
• In percentage terms, we estimate that 26% of female employee jobs
earn less than the Living Wage, against 16% for males.
Data source: IHS Markit estimates based on ONS figures
 
 
On top of this Eva identified that according to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission 2016 77% of women experienced discrimination during pregnancy and maternity leave.
 
The highest proportion of zero contracts are in Health & Social care and Accommodation and Food. All of which are dominated are dominated by women. AND are the predominant jobs available in… Weymouth & Portland.
 
It was also found that many women in part time and zero contract work are unaware of their entitlement to holiday pay.
 
What can be done?
 
Norwegian model:
 
Parent’s share.
Men get 10 weeks saved for them which they lose if they do not take.
90% take the paternity entitlement.
 
Stopping employers evading responsibilities via legislation or monitoring and local campaigns.
 
Interpersonal skills must be valued equally and not subordinated via pay and opportunities.
 
Direct Action outside of businesses who contravene their legal requirements.
 
 
Challenge:
 
How do we compensate local workforce for fluctuations in seasonal incomes?

 

Next up was Oxford University Professor Danny Dorling   

He started off with a quip that it is a very English phenomena to have such a varied and diverse social and economic deprivation with Weymouth & Portland unfortunately being one of the most significant examples.

Much of this presentation derived from the Index of Multiple Deprivation (2015).

Key points:

The UK is top of the league for deprivation

UK has largest decline in life expectancy

Infant mortality is increasing significantly

The rest of Europe’s infant mortality is in decline

Finland has highest level of life expectancy

Infant mortality in UK is twice that of Finland

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Professor Dorling also pointed out that people with Alzheimers and dementia now live 3 years less than they did in 2007.

The following short tips and clips provide a excellent summary of Danny’s analysis of both the local and national experience as well as some solutions.

Professor Dorling then examined and evaluated the context of Brexit actually occurring again both locally and nationally.

The first point that he emphasised is that the mainstream media has attempted to make us believe that the working classes were the ones who determined the final vote. The evidence however reveals that this is at worst a lie and at best a serious misrepresentation of reality.

Many older people voted for Brexit because they were persuaded that, by getting our country back, it would benefit their grandchildren by, amongst other things, protecting the value of their properties. However, short term evidence suggests that house prices are already beginning to fall and as demand weakens will continue to do so.

One of the reasons put forward as to why old people voted so significantly for leaving the EU were their memories of pre joining EEC in 1972 and pre referendum in 1975. However, their memories are of a UK that in 1976 was at its most equal in recorded history. At the time it was only second to Sweden.

By 2016 it was at its most unequal and at the bottom of the European, and way down the OECD, league. Two different times and two different countries. It is not that they are wrong to vote how they did it is just that expectations can never be met.

The majority of those who voted Leave were in social classes ABC and most were in the South. Hampshire was ‘Leave Central’ with the Home Counties containing the most ‘disaffected voters’.

Across Europe inequality is generally falling whereas in the UK it is on the rise.

The word coming out of the EU negotiating team is that the UK has nothing to bargain with. ‘You have no fish and we don’t like your banks…. What fish we do have significant amounts are owned by the richest in your country who leave next to nothing for anyone else.’

Finally up was

Steve Bendle: Housing in Weymouth & Portland

Many jobs in South Dorset are seasonal, insecure and paid at or below the minimum wage. In contrast, the cost of housing remains high and is unaffordable for most young people.

Housing charity Shelter says that on average, house prices in the UK are almost seven times people’s incomes. “No matter how hard they work, it’s becoming more and more difficult for young people to save up and buy a home of their own,” says Shelter. “Things have to change. Urgent reform is needed.”

In Weymouth house prices are now 11 times greater than incomes. In September 2018 the average cost of a house in Weymouth was £267,784 – over £50,000 more than the national average.

Young families and young people who want to live independently face huge problems: meanwhile hundreds of local properties remain empty. There are almost 800 unoccupied properties in Weymouth and Portland, with many empty for over six months.

What can be done?

Weymouth resident Steve Bendle has spent many years in affordable housing development, management and finance, most recently supporting the community land trust movement in England, including in Dorset. He says: “The Local Plan Review for Weymouth & Portland and for West Dorset proposes designating more precious greenfield sites for housing.

“In giving up this amenity, the community has a right to expect that the housing which gets built meets local needs. The councils’ definition of affordable is inadequate – all homes costing under £250,000 to buy and rents at 80% market rent are designated ‘affordable’.

“The Plan also relies on developers to build homes of the right size, type and specification when their main aim is to keep costs down.

“So the opportunities presented by these new housing developments risk being squandered. It’s time for local councils to take a more proactive role in both planning and land ownership so that families and young people can build stable lives in homes they can afford on local wages.

“We propose more Neighbourhood Plans that set out more precisely what type of homes are needed. Planning Committees can also prepare Supplementary Planning Documents for all the larger sites and involve local people in their drafting to make sure of the right outcomes.

“Otherwise we could just lose our green spaces without meeting our housing needs. The only people benefiting will be landowners and the developers.

“We can do better than this: developing part of every scheme to our own requirements with social rented homes and shared ownership at level of equity people can afford to buy, as well as action on empty and second homes.”

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At 16.45 a thoroughly inspiring day came to an end. Friendly, informative and progressive. Learning the facts. Discussion and solutions. Even the youngsters enjoyed it.

NOW FOR ACTION FROM ALL TO GIVE ALL THE PEOPLE IN THE BOROUGH A PROPER CHANCE.