The recent statement by local officials on poverty wages and well-being in Weymouth and Portland is a timely development. Signed by a group of organisations including the Borough Council and the County Council, and by MP Richard Drax, this is the first formal response by elected officials to the social crisis in the area. It suggests recognition of their responsibility to address the crisis and the need for active remedial policies.
(See statement attached below, in the names of: the Chief Executive of Weymouth & Portland Borough Council, the Leader of Weymouth & Portland Borough Council, the Chief Executive of Dorset County Council, the Dorset Police and Crime Commissioner, and the Member of Parliament for South Dorset.)
Weymouth and Portland Action on Wages (WeyPAW) welcomes this statement, anticipating that it will encourage public debate on the crisis. The statement is evasive, however, and offers little to rectify pressing problems. Below we respond to key points in the statement. We also propose urgent measures to address the crisis in our area:
- an audit of employer practices on wages and in-work benefits;
- an education programme to inform local people of rights and entitlements at work;
- prompt action on local housing stock (including unoccupied houses);
- free school meals for all children in Weymouth & Portland;
- consolidation of local health services.
In addition WeyPAW advocates for:
- a special fund to tackle problems of seasonal employment;
- strengthened trade union organisation in our workplaces;
- a sustained campaign by local officials and MPs to radically improve transport links by road and rail;
- a Weymouth and Portland conference on poverty and social disadvantage.
At the root of problems in Weymouth and Portland (W&P) is a crisis of poverty wages. The area has recently been identified as having the lowest average wages in the UK. Using official government figures, in October 2017 the Trades Union Congress noted that average weekly wages in W&P – at £282.90 – were the lowest in the UK.
Why are wages so low? The recent statement by the Council and others identifies W&P with problems common to coastal areas with a rural hinterland. It observes: “We have a seasonal, low-pay economy with few large employers. Like other coastal towns we are remote from a strong industrial base, which means a lack of investment and opportunity.”
This observation conceals a stark reality: many employers in the area pay wages below levels elsewhere because they hope to exploit what they see as a “weak” local labour market. In 2016 there was a major dispute in Weymouth involving First Group buses over its reprehensible policy of paying local drivers at a rate lower than anywhere else in the country – even less than its own drivers in Yeovil and Poole. Here, low pay was an outcome of a deliberate strategy – and when employers succeed in such practices they encourage others to follow suit, driving down average wages.
Rights at work
Some employers avoid obligations on sick pay and holiday pay – a significant component of the total wage. In effect, they withhold wages.
Some employers insist that staff are falsely recorded as “self-employed”, so they can avoid obligations to those defined in law as “workers”. They insist on Zero Hours Contracts, so that employees have no regular hours of work and are vulnerable to abrupt changes in working arrangements. They pressure staff to undertake unpaid overtime, pay wages late and make deductions that do not appear on payment records.
The clustering in our area of large corporate employers who pursue these practices – notably in hotels, the leisure industry (including holiday camps and resorts) and catering (pubs, coffee chains, cafes and restaurants) – means that these illicit practices can become a local “standard”, driving down average wages.
This encourages other delinquent practices, including payment at below the National Minimum Wage. See Unpaid Britain, the recent report by Middlesex University: http://www.mdx.ac.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0017/440531/Final-Unpaid-Britain-report.pdf?bustCache=35242825
The result is “in-work” poverty. Thousands of families struggle to get by even though adults are in employment and may have more than one job – combining part-time, insecure and low-paid positions.
These problems can be ameliorated by monitoring employer practices and enforcing the law on rights at work. The Council and our local MPs should take the lead by initiating an audit of the local economy and directing Council officers to enforce relevant legislation rigorously.
Housing and transport
Living costs in W&P are higher than in most parts of the UK. House prices and rents are on average significantly higher and in 2015-16 average Council Tax in W&P at £1,756 was the highest in the UK (Band D property, government figures).
The average house price in the UK is £226,000 (government figures, January 2018). The average price in Weymouth is £271,150; in Portland (with many fewer properties) it’s £203,609 (figures from Zoopla, March 2018). Average house prices nationally are falling but in Weymouth they are rising – up on average by £8,692 (3.31 per cent) over the past year – and this is reflected in high local rents.
Meanwhile, according to local authorities, hundreds of homes are unoccupied, many for more than two years. The effect is to maintain prices and rents at a level unaffordable for most people in W&P, who face a lethal combination of high costs and low wages.
“Isolation” of W&P can be addressed by improved transport services but key transport links continue to deteriorate – as with South-Western Railways planned reduction in train services and recent cuts to bus routes. These make access to work difficult or much more expensive for many people. Not everyone can afford to run a car or take a taxi daily to work! W&P needs active policies for housing and transport to help tackle the crisis of poverty wages.
Children and young people
The wages crisis in W&P has a special impact on young people, who are often compelled to accept jobs at the lowest rates of pay. Anecdotal evidence suggests that they are particularly vulnerable to employers wishing to avoid payment of in-work benefits, those who impose Zero Hours Contracts and make short or late payments of wages. (This requires full investigation by means of an audit of local employer practices.)
Our secondary schools in W&P have struggled to meet national average levels for educational attainment. Despite the best efforts of teachers and support staff they cannot compensate for repeated cuts. Dorset is one of the worst funded areas in the country: local head teachers say that year after year they have to reduce staff numbers, so that schools are unable to offer the educational experience they wish to provide.
In an area affected by poverty wages the effect is to limit further opportunities for local children. It’s no surprise that W&P is at the bottom of indices for social mobility in the UK (third from the bottom of the latest tables for all areas in the country).
New regulations on Universal Benefit mean that thousands of schoolchildren will be unable to claim Free School Meals. Children in all classes from Year 3 will no longer have access to Free School Meals if household incomes exceed £7,400. The impact in W&P will be serious and schools will struggle with the added problem of teaching children who are hungry, tired and prone to illness.
It is not good enough for elected officials in the area to state merely that they are committed “to make sure pupils in the area reach their full potential” (see below). A coherent strategy for children and young people (including a commitment to provide Free School Meals) is a must if W&P is to offer a meaningful future in education and in work.
The statement below invokes us “to celebrate what is great about Weymouth and Portland”. The current crisis, however, is causing huge distress and loss of confidence in the area, despite the strong attachment of most people to Weymouth, the Island, and to South Dorset.
Pride in beaches, parks, gardens and the Jurassic Coast (see below) does not pay the bills, while the collapse of expectations following the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics is a striking feature of discussions with local people about life in W&P.
There are other contentious assertions in the statement below. These can best be addressed in full discussion with councillors, MPs and others – which is why WeyPAW advocates a conference open to the public on poverty wages and well-being in Weymouth and Portland. This would provide an opportunity to discuss in detail policies for change and how they are to be enacted.
Weymouth and Portland Action on Wages March 2018
WeyPAW is on Facebook and at: www.weypaw.org.uk
Response to concerns raised about Weymouth and Portland
Concerns were recently raised at a meeting of Weymouth & Portland Borough Council. What follows here is a joint response from organisations that provide public services outlining the work that is being done to improve things.
Thank you to Pete Barrow for raising important points (highlighted in bold below) at the recent full council meeting of Weymouth & Portland Borough Council.
It is very true that we are facing complex challenges. The context, as people will be aware is that we are a coastal area with a rural hinterland. We have a seasonal, low-pay economy with few large employers. Like other coastal towns we are remote from a strong industrial base, which means a lack of investment and opportunity. Local agencies are working hard to address the challenges associated with this and this is a joint response.
Joint working is increasing between Weymouth & Portland Borough Council, Dorset County Council, Dorset Police, Dorset Police and Crime Commissioner,
Public Health Dorset, Dorset CCG, Weymouth College and the local community. We will try and address the points raised below.
- We have the third worst social mobility in the country
Social mobility is a complex issue which no agency can tackle alone.
Details of how agencies are working to improve social mobility are set out here:
A report, published in 2017, called ‘The State of the Nation, Social Mobility in Great Britain’ identified hot spots where social mobility is good and cold spots where it is poor. The report looks at indicators in four domains – early years, school, youth and working lives. We are not complacent and recognise the urgent need for all agencies to work together to improve social mobility.
- We have two areas that fall within the 10% most deprived in England
Parts of our borough including Melcombe Regis are within the top 10% most deprived areas according to the Index of Multiple Deprivation, 2015. The causes of inequality are multiple and need to be tackled by all agencies. This is why the Melcombe Regis Board was set up, so leaders of public agencies can work together to improve quality of life.
The ‘Working with You’ initiative in Littlemoor, Melcombe Regis, Underhill and Westham is also tackling the problems causing inequality. We are tackling issues such as long-term health and wellbeing, poor quality housing, crime, social isolation and creating an improved local economy providing better life chances. A 2018 update on the project is available here.
- We have the lowest pay in the country
We have not been able to identify your source data for stating that Weymouth is the lowest paid area in the country. Our review of the data published by the Office for National Statistics through its Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE) is more positive.
It states that the gross weekly average full time earnings for Weymouth and Portland is around £500, which is not the lowest in the country. The ASHE provisional workplace earnings for 2017, published last autumn, shows median work placed based gross full time wages at £500.20 in Weymouth and Portland. This is an increase on 2016, while the residence based assessment (wages of people who live in Weymouth) is £510.50. Both of these are about midpoint in a list of 41 local authorities in the south west.
However, it is true that the number of jobs earning less than living wage is higher than in some other parts of Dorset. This reflects the type of employment, such as seasonal work in accommodation and food services, available in the borough.
We have a vision – the Town Centre Masterplan – to attract more quality jobs and improve prosperity. It was one of only five projects in 2015 to win Government Growth Deal Funding (£600,000) from the Dorset Local Enterprise Partnership.
Unemployment is currently low in Weymouth and Portland, running at 1.3 per cent in September 2017.
- We have an escalating problem with anti-social behaviour with many residents now genuinely frightened for their own safety
Concerns have been expressed recently about the behaviour of a small group of 14 and 15 year olds in Weymouth town centre. The police and the borough council’s Community Safety Team work hard to tackle anti-social behaviour and have effective systems in place for dealing with it.
As Cllr Francis Drake mentioned briefly on the radio piece this week, we currently run the ‘Do You Know Where Your Children Are?’ campaign. This sees tiered warning letters sent home to parents if their children are found engaging in anti-social behaviour. Multi-agency case conferences are held to address underlying causes and make sure the right referrals are made. If necessary, Acceptable Behaviour Contracts are then offered to put parameters in place to manage behaviour. The team are also looking at providing youth outreach work for key periods like Saturday afternoons. When we have details of this we will share this with you.
It is worth noting that while these actions are usually effective in dealing with anti-social behaviour when it occurs, we cannot easily prevent isolated incidents from happening. There is a lot of work going on in this area and it is important to highlight that the vast majority of young people are a credit to our community. These recent incidents involved around 10 children. Work is now ongoing with them.
Police Sergeant Andy Jenkins, of Weymouth Neighbourhood Policing Team, has also said: “We will not accept anyone engaging in anti-social behaviour (ASB) and causing distress to residents, visitors and businesses.
“I want to reassure the public that we have identified the group of teenagers involved in incidents of ASB over the last few weeks. We have put in place dedicated police officers who will directly target these individuals and, where appropriate, look to put them before the courts. Where there is a clear necessity offenders will be arrested. We also have other enforcement options we are considering, including criminal behaviour orders and dispersal orders.”
The Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner (OPCC) have said: Anti-social behaviour affects residents’ quality of life across the county and must be addressed through engagement, enforcement and diversion. The Safer Dorset Fund Community Grant has been established as a funding source for voluntary and community sector organisations to deliver projects that meet one or more of the Police & Crime Plan priorities. The OPCC encourages community groups to be part of the solution. Find out more here.
The OPCC looks to support innovative schemes. In 2016, the OPCC supported a new breathalyser pilot in Weymouth to empower licensed premises to manage excessively intoxicated patrons, in an effort to tackle anti-social behaviour issues linked to the night-time economy. More information can be found here.
We are also supporting the early scoping for inclusion CSAS (Community Safety Accredited Officers) within the town and have allocated funding to the venture. This follows on from a successful approach using CSAS in the Bournemouth area also supported by this OPCC. More information on CSAS can be found here.
The OPCC has also supported the investment of a community capacity support worker, which will serve to build a strong and resilient local community and build community cohesion by effective working with service providers, advocate their needs and support action to address the identified problems in these areas. Work will include engagement with hard to reach groups.
- We have drug taking and drug dealing taking place in public
Here is a response from Weymouth & Portland Neighbourhood Inspector Steve Yeoman: “Tackling drug misuse and dealing is a priority for Dorset Police and we fully understand from speaking with residents how it impacts on the community, but this issue is not just unique to Weymouth and can be seen in many towns across the country.
“Some residents who report drug misuse and dealing may believe we take no action, but not all reports warrant an immediate police response. I want to reassure the public that we use all reports of drug misuse and dealing to gain an intelligence picture and gather necessary evidence to target drug dealers and safeguard vulnerable people. This can be seen through all the various drug warrants we have carried out, arrests and convictions that we have secured recently.
“However, solving this issue does not just involve Dorset Police. It requires of a wide range of agencies working in partnership including Weymouth & Portland Borough Council’s Community Safety Team, British Transport Police, Public Health Dorset and other charities and agencies.
“Simply arresting drug addicts is not going to solve the issue in the long term. Many of these people do have deep-lying problems that need addressing and that is why we want to signpost them to support agencies in order to help them to improve their ways. We do have enforcement options available to deal with those who refuse to accept help.”
OPCC response: Resolving drug issues goes beyond the remit of the police to enforce. In the past, I have supported the concept of a drug and alcohol recovery hub in this part of the county. We know there are links between drug and alcohol misuse and offending behaviour, and such a facility has the potential to reduce crime by providing tailored, professional support to those who need it.
- Our secondary schools are the lowest performers in Dorset
Here is a response from Dorset County Council:
We are, of course, disappointed that the performance of secondary schools in the Weymouth and Portland area is below the national average. Significant support has been put in place, both by the Regional Schools Commissioner and Dorset County Council, to turn this around. The Dorset Education Advisory Service and senior officers are fully committed to supporting the schools concerned to make sure pupils in the area reach their full potential.
- We have an escalating housing crisis rough sleeping up 60% in a year
The annual rough sleeper count (carried out on a single night in November each year) revealed a total of 18 rough sleepers in 2017 in Weymouth and Portland, up from 11 in 2016. This reflects a similar upward trend across the country.
The borough council funds a Rough Sleeper Outreach Service for Weymouth and Portland. Our service provider, Julian House, engage proactively with people found sleeping on the streets, and do what they can to help them into settled accommodation, to tackle other underlying issues such as alcohol and drug dependency and so on. We also work in close partnership with a range of other agencies, such as Dorset County Council and The Lantern, to improve the situation of rough sleepers.
A group of Trustees and volunteers have recently set up the Bus Shelter scheme, which can provide overnight accommodation for up to 17 rough sleepers, and although it has only been up and running for a few weeks in a borough council-owned car park in the Lodmoor area, a number of rough sleepers have already been taken from the streets and the signs are good that the scheme can make a major contribution to alleviating local rough sleeping problems with funding support from Dorset County Council.
We have an agreed protocol that sets out how we deal with rough sleepers during periods of extremely cold weather, and this came into effect during the recent freezing weather. Numerous people were taken off the streets and helped into a range of types of short term temporary accommodation.
With regards to homelessness more generally, in our experience, much of this arises when private rented sector landlords perfectly legally end the tenancies of their tenants, who struggle to be able to afford to find somewhere else to live. Under such circumstances, we have a scheme whereby we can fund people’s rental deposits and first month’s rent, and this has made a tremendously positive difference for many local people over the years.
There is a huge imbalance between the demand for and availability of affordable housing locally. The borough council does what it can to enable the building of new affordable housing, whether for rent or shared ownership, and it will continue to do so.
OPCC response: In October 2017, the OPCC hosted its inaugural Problem Solving Forum to consider the issue of homelessness. The Commissioner pledged to bring together stakeholders including those from the voluntary sector to facilitate more effective joint working on issues that are long-standing, reoccurring and require a multi-agency response. The PCC Innovation Fund is available for proposals borne out of the Problem Solving Forum, but will only be allocated where action plans meet strict criteria. Ideas must be scoped into business cases that outline how initiatives will make a real difference to community safety.
- Our children have the worst obesity rates in Dorset
Here is a response from Dorset County Council:
This is an area of concern for reception children, as data for 2013-17 suggests that obesity is higher than the national average. However, in the same time scale, the data for year 6 pupils shows a lower proportion of children with obesity than the national average.
Although there is no room for complacency in addressing barriers to a healthy weight, this is an issue across all local authority areas and not specific to Weymouth and Portland. There is also a link between childhood obesity and areas of deprivation. The data is available here:
No one single intervention or initiative will address obesity, and relies on organisations working collectively to tackle the issue and support families.
- Mental health admissions in W+P are greater than in Bournemouth
Here is a response from Dorset County Council with information from Dorset NHS Clinical Commissioning Group and Dorset Healthcare:
Dorset NHS Clinical Commissioning Group is not able to confirm this and say about 70% of the demand for inpatient services comes from Bournemouth and Poole. Looking at serious mental illness prevalence rates by GP locality, Weymouth and Portland is the third highest in the Dorset CCG area and above the national average.
With investment and support from Dorset NHS Clinical Commissioning Group, Dorset HealthCare is introducing a number of changes which will improve the provision of mental health care across Dorset – including Weymouth and Portland. There will be an additional 16 inpatient care beds, including four at Forston Clinic near Dorchester, and the creation of two new ‘Retreats’ (including one in Dorchester) where people can access the professional treatment and support they need. The Trust is also introducing three community ‘front rooms’ (including one in West Dorset), giving people in crisis access to specialist peer support workers. And further enhanced support will be available through Connection, a 24/7 crisis line. These changes will complement Dorset HealthCare’s existing community mental health teams working in the Weymouth and Portland area.
- Life expectancy is the lowest in the County
Life expectancy in the borough varies according to where people live. For men, there is a difference of 10.7 years in life expectancy across the borough. For women, the range is 7.9 years.
To set this in a national context, life expectancy for men in Weymouth & Portland is 78.5 years compared to 79.5 years in England. Life expectancy for women is 83.4 years compared to the 83.1 for England. Looking at the most deprived areas of the borough, there is a gap of 5.3 years to the borough average for men and a gap of 3.4 years for women.
In summary, there are complex challenges facing us. We, the providers of public services, recognise this. We are working hard, and increasingly together, to improve things.
While not in any way detracting from the problems facing us, it is also important to celebrate what is great about Weymouth and Portland. We have one of the best beaches in the country, set off beautifully following the successful Seafront Regeneration Project, part of the £3.5million project to improve Weymouth seafront. We have the most amazing natural environment on our door step. Our Jurassic Coast is now famous as a World Heritage site and we are surrounded by an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. We are known internationally as one of the best places for sailing, following our successful hosting of the 2012 Olympic and Paralympics. We have lots of wonderful award-winning parks and gardens. We also have an engaged community, who are passionate to work with us to improve things, which is evidenced by your group as well as in many other projects.
Thank you again for your questions, we hope these responses help to set in context what we are currently doing and we hope your group will work with us to help improve quality of life in Weymouth and Portland further in the future. As discussed we are looking at how we can engage in a different way with our community, to harness their support for making things better. If anyone has any thoughts about this engagement please let us know in the comments section.
Matt Prosser, Chief Executive of Weymouth & Portland Borough Council and Chairman of the Melcombe Regis Board
Councillor Jeff Cant, Leader of Weymouth & Portland Borough Council
Debbie Ward, Chief Executive of Dorset County Council
Martyn Underhill, Dorset Police and Crime Commissioner
Richard Drax, Member of Parliament for South Dorset