Coastal towns in cycle of poverty, says think tank
Declining seaside towns in parts of the UK are stuck in a cycle of poverty, a think tank has warned.
The Centre for Social Justice - set up by Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith - said some towns were suffering "severe social breakdown".
They were also becoming "dumping grounds" for vulnerable people such as children in care and ex-offenders.
This has been "further depressing the desirability of such areas and so perpetuating the cycle", it said.
The CSJ report, entitled Turning the Tide, examined conditions in five coastal towns in England and Wales - Rhyl in north Wales, Margate in Kent, Clacton-on-Sea in Essex, Blackpool in Lancashire and Great Yarmouth in Norfolk.
Whilst each town has its own particular problems, it said "a recurring theme had been that of poverty attracting poverty".
Many seaside towns' economies were badly affected by the advent of cheaper foreign travel in the 1970s, it said. This led in turn to a depleted economy, low skills base and "dangerously high levels of family breakdown".
The total working-age benefits bill for the five towns is almost £2bn, it says - and the human cost of their high unemployment rates is "more considerable still".
The think tank said on key measures of poverty - school failure, teenage pregnancy, fatherlessness and lone parenting, and worklessness - some resorts now had problems as severe as deprived inner-city areas.
Of the 10 wards in England and Wales with the highest rates of teenage pregnancy, four were seaside towns.
In one part of Rhyl, two-thirds of working-age people were dependent on out-of-work benefits. Meanwhile 41% of adults in Clacton-on-Sea had no qualifications - almost double the average for England and Wales.
Blackpool local authority had the highest rate of children in care in the whole of England - 150 per 10,000 population - far exceeding the English average of 59, it said.
The CSJ said much of the accommodation in the five towns had been acquired by private landlords and converted into "extremely cheap" housing, attracting people living on low incomes and welfare claimants, as well as less economically-active people such as single-parent families and pensioners.
On a recent evening in Blackpool, among the young drinkers, 37 year-old Jodie sat begging, trying to collect enough money to avoid a night in the local public toilets, known locally as the 20p Hilton.
A mile away, as the clock struck midnight, a group of people approached a cashpoint machine, hoping their unemployment benefit had just been paid in. Some £40 of it would go on weed, one man said.
Nobody in the group was actually originally from Blackpool, but they had arrived over the years.
The local council believe an abundance of cheap accommodation is a magnet, as old faded guest houses are turned into bedsits.
They are trying to contain the situation by forcing landlords to get licences.
But councils in London and the Midlands have approached Blackpool landlords looking to find cheap accommodation for some of their residents - a poor town, attracting poor people.
It also found councils in high-cost areas were taking advantage of cheap accommodation in seaside towns by using them to house vulnerable people.
As a result, coastal towns were become "veritable dumping grounds for groups such as care leavers, people with substance abuse problems, those with mental health issues and ex-offenders", it said.
The influx of vulnerable people being re-housed was "further depressing the desirability of such areas and so perpetuating the cycle", the think tank argued.
Such people had "complex needs" and tended to intensify the "pressure on schools, social workers and other services", CSJ policy director Alex Burghart said.
CSJ director Christian Guy said living standards in some of the UK's best-known coastal towns had declined "beyond recognition" and locals were now "bearing the brunt of severe levels of social breakdown".
"We have found inspiring local people, services and charities working hard to turn things around, but they are struggling to do this alone.
"Some of these areas have been left behind. We must ramp up efforts to revive Britain's coastal towns, not just for visitors but for the people who live there," he said.