A local person wrote to Richard Drax MP, concerned for the future of Weymouth & Portland.
The response left a less than pleasant taste.
Weymouth and Portland – getting to grips with “grim” reality
When a constituent wrote to Dorset South MP Richard Drax about poverty wages and declining welfare in Weymouth and Portland she did not expect a reply that dismissed her concerns as based on “inaccurate reports” and “negativity”.
After reading several articles about wages, social mobility, healthcare and educational attainment published in the Dorset Echo, a Weymouth resident wrote to Drax to express concern about serious problems in the area. The MP, who has his own regular column in the Echo, has not challenged the newspaper publicly about its well-researched reports on incomes and welfare. He nonetheless suggested that the letter wrongly depicts a “grim” situation. In fact, Drax asserted, “life in Weymouth and Portland is not as bad as some would have you believe”.
Identifying job opportunities at Portland Port and Winfrith, the MP said he was working with the Government and “a myriad of organisations” to attract investment to the area. His own letter, he said, should “warm the cockles of your heart”.
She was furious at the response. She told us, “I am a Cambridge graduate and have not been condescended to like that since I was eight years old!” Somewhat embarrassed at the elitist tone of that, the Weymouth resident leavened this by saying, “I said it with passion to express my fury at the contemptuous and dismissive way my own MP addressed my concerns for Weymouth.” Either way she felt it necessary to publish the letter.
The correspondence suggests a huge gap in perception between the MP and thousands of his constituents. Weymouth and Portland Action on Wages (WeyPAW) has been investigating problems of the economy and of education and welfare in the area. Among preliminary findings are:
- average weekly wages in W&P are now the lowest in the UK (government figures);
- many local jobs are based on Zero Hours Contracts and offer no security of employment;
- local leisure, catering and retail sectors include delinquent employers who routinely evade obligations to provide in-work benefits;
- housing costs are well above the national average and still rising;
- local food banks support thousands of vulnerable families;
- schools face repeated budget cuts: despite the best efforts of teachers educational attainment is well below national standards;
- children in W&P have the highest levels of obesity in the county;
- health provision has been cut to the bone: Portland faces the loss of its community hospital and Weymouth of mental health beds;
- life expectancy is the worst in the county;
- transport links between W&P and the wider region are still grossly inadequate – and cuts to bus services continue.
As the Dorset Echo observes, recent findings on wages, health and education are “grim revelations” about a “left-behind” borough. They mark a sharp decline in fortunes for the area: one index is a collapse in social mobility, so that W&P is now one of the three lowest achieving areas in the UK on the social mobility index. This has a particular impact on young people, who find increasing difficulty securing regular employment, affordable accommodation and educational advance.
It is true that we live in a beautiful, historic area of which we can be proud. But for thousands of people the situation is “grim” and we deserve better. New measures are needed, developed in consultation with local people.
WeyPAW is to invite our local councils and the area’s two MPs – Richard Drax and Oliver Letwin – to organise a conference at which challenges facing W&P are open to discussion and debate, and at which we can formulate policies for regeneration and social advance. Community organisations, charities, trade unions, churches and faith groups will also be invited to attend, together with members of the public.
Responding to his Weymouth constituent, Richard Drax insists that many people “are working their socks off” to improve W&P. If he is correct, their efforts can only be enhanced by collaboration with others intent on bringing change.
Weymouth & Portland Action on Wages (PAW) – 2 May 2018
WeyPAW is on Facebook and at weypaw.org.uk and can be contacted at: email@example.com