Saturday, 18 November 2017

Left behind: coastal communities on the fringe

We do like to be beside the seaside:
Futures Forum: Spending time in rural and coastal locations is more psychologically beneficial to individuals than time spent in urban green spaces

But life on the coast can be difficult:
Futures Forum: Coastal communities and building resilience

None more so than in Blackpool.

Here is an excerpt from an excellent piece of journalism from the weekend Financial Times 
- which points out 'Why the once-thriving seaside town embodies much of what is broken about modern Britain's economy':

Left behind: can anyone save the towns the economy forgot?

Soaring antidepressant usage, falling life expectancy: Blackpool embodies much of what is going wrong on the fringes of Britain

The elephants that lumbered up and down Blackpool’s beach have long gone. Britain’s political parties have stopped decamping to the town for their annual jamborees. Even the deckchairs have left: the local government sold all 6,000 of them three years ago to a company in the affluent county of Cheshire. The one thing that hasn’t disappeared is the people.
Outside London, this resort on England’s north-west coast is one of the most densely populated places in the country. Rather than the classic downward spiral of a place in decline, Blackpool is stuck in its own strange dynamic. The more the economy rots, the more some people come.
People such as Chris Hopkins, 37, a lanky man with a curious mind and a quick tongue. Five years ago, he was living 40 miles away, working for temp agencies in unskilled factory jobs. One day, after he complained about the state of his flat, his landlord told him to move out. He went on property website Zoopla and set the filter to rank by “lowest price”. Blackpool topped the list, so that is where he went.
The first flat the estate agent showed him was a single room the size of a large rug, with a bathroom shared by three others. “Only if the other three are Swedish models,” Hopkins quipped. But the next place was a keeper: a living room, kitchen, bathroom and bedroom for £55 a week — £3 a week less than Zoopla’s listing for an underground parking space in central London.

A damaged seat on the Central Pier carousel © Christopher Nunn

In a country where affordable housing is hard to find, people are gravitating to coastal towns such as Blackpool, where the receding tide of tourism has left behind a surfeit of old B&Bs that have been turned into bedsits. But cheap flats are not the only draw. Many Brits have happy memories of Blackpool: the smell of salt and frying fish; the scream of the roller coasters; the thunder of the waves on windy days. Hopkins remembers sitting with his sister in the back of the car as his parents drove round the town at night, gazing up through the sunroof at the famous “illuminations”: miles of glowing decorations strung above the prom.
To hear Dr Arif Rajpura, Blackpool’s director of public health, tell it, this shabby seaside town has become, in effect, the nation’s halfway house. “People have a positive association from their childhood . . . When something’s not gone right in their lives, [when] there’s a problem, [when] they’re running away from something, then people do tend to come to Blackpool, and the cheap housing helps drive people here,” he says. One friend of Hopkins’ puts it more bluntly. “It’s a drop-out town.”
Blackpool is suffering from a highly concentrated dose of what seems to be going wrong in pockets of many developed countries. Economists in the US often contrast the dynamism of America’s coasts with the malaise of its heartlands. But in Britain, it is increasingly on the country’s physical edges, in its seaside towns, that you find people on the outside of the economy looking in. Blackpool exports healthy skilled people and imports the unskilled, the unemployed and the unwell. As people overlooked by the modern economy wash up in a place that has also been left behind, the result is a quietly unfolding health crisis. More than a tenth of the town’s working-age inhabitants live on state benefits paid to those deemed too sick to work. Antidepressant prescription rates are among the highest in the country. Life expectancy, already the lowest in England, has recently started to fall.
Doctors in places such as this have a private diagnosis for what ails some of their patients: “Shit Life Syndrome”. Rajpura laughs when I mention it. “Yeah, I’ve heard that from GPs in Blackpool.” The term isn’t meant to sound dismissive. People with SLS really do have mental or physical health problems, doctors say. But they believe the causes are a tangled mix of economic, social and emotional problems that they — with 10- to 15-minute slots per patient — feel powerless to fix.
The relationship between economics and health is blurry, complex and politically fraught. But it is too important to ignore. In America, white working-class people are falling prey to what economists call “deaths of despair” from opioids, alcohol and suicide. Populist politicians all over the world are making a potent appeal to those who feel the economy no longer works for them. Then there is the financial cost. In 2012, the UK’s official fiscal watchdog predicted that policy reforms would reduce government spending on benefits to people too sick to work from about £15bn a year to about £10bn by 2015. In reality, spending has barely budged.
The story of Blackpool is a story about the failure of national policies to support places on the edge. But it is also a story about how — in the face of necessity — people are trying new ideas to turn things around. “It’s fundamentally a hard problem, but that doesn’t mean that nothing can be done,” says Diane Coyle, an economics professor at Manchester University. “The idea it’s all God-given and can’t be changed is, I think, completely wrong.”


Left behind: can anyone save the towns the UK economy forgot? Financial Times

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