See our presentation looking at wages and rights at work, originally shown to students at Weymouth College in early December 2018
New information on our children’s futures – urgent action needed
The latest data on life chances in South Dorset make alarming reading. In October the House of Commons Library published new research on opportunities for children across England. This showed that South Dorset ranks bottom among 533 parliamentary constituencies for social mobility – the likelihood that children from “disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds” will do well as adults in terms of jobs, income and housing.*
Children in Weymouth and Portland face particularly acute challenges. All areas of South Dorset face problems of employment and housing. However, in Weymouth & Portland – the major urban area of the constituency – job opportunities are limited, incomes are low and schools face a daunting challenge to meet children’s needs.
The latest figures suggest that Weymouth & Portland falls far below the base level for social mobility measured across the whole of England.
The Social Mobility Index by Constituency (SMIC) measures life chances of disadvantaged children – prospects for those eligible for Free School Meals (FSM). Among several indices of educational attainment and employment prospects, it finds:
- only 46 per cent of children in South Dorset eligible for FSM achieved “a good level of development” at the end of the Foundation Stage of education. South Dorset ranked 522 of 533 constituencies across England for Early Years attainment;
- only 28 per cent of children in South Dorset eligible for FSM achieved the expected national level of achievement at the end of Key Stage 4. South Dorset ranked 530 of 533 constituencies at the School stage of attainment;
- the average points score of children in South Dorset eligible for FSM at age 15 taking A-levels or equivalent was 19: South Dorset ranked 451 of 533 constituencies at the Youth stage of attainment;
- almost 40 per cent of all jobs in South Dorset paid less than the Living Wage as defined by the Living Wage Foundation. South Dorset ranked 512 of 533 constituencies at the Adulthood stage of attainment.
Aggregated results placed South Dorset bottom of the national index.
When more stable areas of the South Dorset constituency are abstracted from these figures the situation in Weymouth & Portland is revealed starkly as an area in economic and social decline. More than two-thirds of the population of South Dorset is concentrated in Weymouth & Portland, where significant numbers of children are now grossly disadvantaged by national standards.
Are elected representatives of people in South Dorset in denial of these realities? Neither members of parliament nor local councils have addressed mounting evidence of economic and social crisis, especially in Weymouth & Portland.
When in May 2018 WeyPAW invited South Dorset MP Richard Drax and West Dorset MP Oliver Letwin (whose constituency borders Weymouth & Portland) to plan a conference addressing these issues, both refused – and local councils failed to respond.
WeyPAW convenor Philip Marfleet said: “The crisis in Weymouth & Portland is clear to see in these statistics but more important is the reality for young people in the area.
“I’m proud to come from Dorset and to live in the county. But I’m not proud of being bottom of the list for jobs, wages and educational achievement.
“Our MPs and councillors need to take the initiative with policies that address low pay, part-time jobs and inadequate contracts – and act urgently to support teachers and school staff with resources to boost education. Are MPs and councils really going to sit back and let the decline go on relentlessly?
“WeyPAW will continue to highlight these issues as matters of social justice that require changes of policy and urgent action.”
Comment from WeyPAW
Further information and comment is available from Philip Marfleet:
*See the SMIC index, available at: https://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/CBP-8400#fullreport
The Social Mobility Commission is an advisory non-departmental public body that: “monitors progress towards improving social mobility in the UK, and promotes social mobility in England”.
The Commission’s research, it says, “offers a good guide to which areas provide young people from disadvantaged backgrounds with the best opportunity to do well as adults and it can be used to identify differences between local areas in the extent to which disadvantaged young people are likely to be able to fulfil their potential.”
Weymouth & Portland Action on Wages – WeyPAW
Wages in Weymouth and Portland are way below the national average: at the same time, house prices and rents greatly exceed costs across the UK. People in W&P face a “double whammy” – chronically low wages and unaffordable housing.
This month’s conference (October 13) called by Weymouth & Portland Action on Wages (WeyPAW) asks why we face this crisis – and what can be done.
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.”
Steve Bendle will be speaking at the WeyPAW conference on Saturday October 13 – 12 midday at Safewise, Radipole Lane, Weymouth. Other speakers include Professor Danny Dorling of Oxford University on wages and inequality, and Eva Herman of Manchester University, who will introduce discussion on women, wages and rights at work. Admission is free – all are welcome.
More information on the WeyPAW conference at: www.weypaw.org.uk
Saturday 13 October, Safewise, Weymouth
- No to poverty wages
- For the Living Wage, equal pay for women and full rights at work
- For affordable housing
- Stop the cuts to schools and hospitals
- MPs and councillors – do your job!
Why are wages in Weymouth & Portland the lowest in the UK? Why are our schools struggling and why, at a time of need, are hospitals and health services in W&P being cut again and again? Why does no one take responsibility? What can we do?
Wages – housing
Wages and living standards in South Dorset continue to decline. Despite years of talk – about development, business initiatives, the Olympic legacy – thousands of people in W&P struggle with poverty wages and insecure jobs. At the same time, housing costs rise relentlessly – the gap between local wages and the cost of housing is one of the biggest in the UK.
Young people face the prospect of insecure, seasonal employment, often on zero-hours contracts. Elderly people find that their services are being eroded and – the latest blow – that vital beds at Portland Community Hospital have been cut.
Our MPs and councils have failed to address these issues. They shift responsibility onto other bodies and agencies – and these, too, fail to tackle the real problems faced by thousands of people said to live in “forgotten towns”.
WeyPAW believes we can – we must – do better. We have called an open conference to discuss what lies behind these problems – and what policies we need to tackle them.
We have invited one of Britain’s leading experts on incomes and inequality, Professor Danny Dorling of Oxford University, to introduce discussion on the crisis in South Dorset. We have also invited Eva Herman of Manchester Universityto address the particular problems of women and low pay, and Nigel Costley of the South-West TUCto discuss issues of rights at work.
Local activists will address problems in our schools and in health and welfare services, and introduce ideas for policies that can make a difference.
This is an open public forum: all those attending will be invited to express their views. Admission is free – donations are welcome.
WeyPAW Conference: Saturday 13 October, 12pm-4pm
Safewise, 481 Radipole Lane, Weymouth DT4 0QF (bus route 8)
WeyPAW campaigns against poverty wages and to promote well-being in Weymouth & Portland
Portland Speaks Out On Healthcare
On 5 July almost 200 residents attended a public meeting (at short notice) to unanimously voice their opposition to the planned closure of 16 beds at Portland Community Hospital.
The message they sent was very clear – losing the beds would not only remove a valuable resource from the community, but would also mark another step in the ongoing erosion of Portland’s infrastructure and with it the fundamental facilities and systems required to support its growing and ageing community.
Portland Community Hospital is located in the most deprived location in Dorset. Anarea recently ranked 322 out of 324 local authorities in England in terms of social mobility prospects for those with a disadvantaged background. Child poverty is high, average weekly pay is the lowest in the UK and key indicators show that prompt action is needed to improve overall health and life expectancy. Portland is a community that is already reeling under the impact of past cuts and evolving challenges, all of which are directly impacting on our health and wellbeing.
Government targets state 90 homes per year need to be built on Portland (approx 600 currently under construction or planned). There are plans for 3,000 new jobs to be created locally. These factors, combined with our ageing population, will further increase demand on our already depleted health and social care services – a demand that cannot be satisfied by partial provision in Weymouth (with 1950 new homes planned) or by our county hospital in Dorchester (with 3,500 new homes planned).
Portland’s geographical setting sets it apart from other areas in Dorset. With one road on and off the Island, 14 miles from DCH and even further from other specialist provision – Portland’s residents are already disadvantaged in their ability to receive prompt and effective medical care. Visiting loved ones in hospitals off the Island, especially for older residents, can be hugely challenging. Around ¼ of residents don’t drive, there is no direct public transport to DCH or surrounding community hospitals and taxi/bus fares are prohibitively high. Closing these beds means you are directly compromising the ability of residents to engage with loved ones, often in the late stages of life. This is not acceptable.
The key reason given for closing these beds is the inability to recruit adequate staff to guarantee the safety of patients. We understand, however, that staff have not been given the option to work at Portland for some time because it’s no longer an option on the staffing rota? Also, once staff know that a ward is to be closed they are unlikely to apply to work there.
Perhaps an approach where existing staff can choose to work at Portland and where potential recruits are offered accommodation to encourage a move, would ease any staffing issues? All over the country, “key workers” are assisted to find housing close to work. What efforts have you made to support nurses and ancillary staff in Portland?
Local residents believe you should revisit the planned closure of Portland’s 16 community hospital beds as a matter of urgency, particularly as you have no clear plan for what will replace the Island’s current and inadequate healthcare facilities.
Instead, plans should be advanced to develop and invest in the hospital and local surgeries as part of a new strategy for healthcare in the area. This work should be a collaborative endeavour between NHS workforce representatives, health workers and community groups – an approach that is already evident in many areas where healthcare provision is working to maximum impact.
Mr Shields – you state that you want to consult with local people in order to build a new person-focused, localised service. We ask that you do this BEFOREclosing the hospital’s beds. We have a right to effective local health services – including a hospital, which needs to be developed, not rundown until inevitable closure.
Mr Drax – you told us at the Portland meeting that you had heard and understood our views. Also, that you were against these cuts. We ask what more will you now be doing to meet our needs and protect the interests of your constituents in Portland and across South Dorset?
Clare Moody MEP South-West England (on behalf of my constituents)
Alan Chedzoy – Hon Alderman, Weymouth and Portland Borough Council (WPBC)
Cllr Kate Wheller – Dorset County Council, WPBC
Cllr Paul Kimber – WPBC
Cllr Ray Nowak – Portland Town Council (PTC), WPBC
Cllr J Draper – PTC
Cllr Tia Roos – WPBC
Cllr Charles Flack – Mayor of Portland, PTC
Cllr Rod Wyld – PTC
Cllr Jo Atwell – PTC
Councillor David and Mrs L Thurston – PTC
Cllr S West – PTC, WPBC
Cllr Lucy Hamilton – WPBC
Cllr Dr J Orrell – DCC
Cllr C Huckle – WPBC
Cllr O Kanji – WPBC
Cllr D Harris – DCC
Cllr J Farquharson – WPBC
R Kayes – retired councillor, DCC
Kim Wilcox, CEO, Island Community Action
Tim Nicholls – Secretary, Dorchester, Weymouth and Portland Trades Union Council
Mrs M Collins, Chair, South Dorset Labour Party
Mrs Claudia Sorin, Vice-Chair Dorchester Labour Party
Mr P Marfleet – Convenor, Weymouth and Portland Action on Wages (WeyPAW)
Rosemary Smeeton – Chair, Patient Participation Group
Ms D Monkhouse, Defend Dorset NHS
Ms G Lewis – Save Portland Beds
– and more 100 others.
Film showing: THE SPIRIT OF ’45, directed by Ken Loach
Wednesday 27 June, 7.30pm, YMCA, Reforne, Easton, Portland
All welcome – admission free. Plus discussion led by Portland health campaigner Giovanna Lewis
The National Health Service is 70 years old next month. It came into being when, after the Second World War, Britain was bankrupt – but still found the resources to create a welfare state providing high quality, free healthcare for all. This superb documentary film explores the lives and hopes of those who fought for our public services.
With Weymouth & Portland struggling to maintain our local services – and Portland Community Hospital under threat of closure – we remember why the NHS belongs to us all and why it’s worth keeping. In the 1940s, in the wake of war, politicians could find the money to fund a universal service. Why not now?
Organised by Weymouth & Portland Action on Wages – WeyPAW
The news this week that Budmouth and All Saints School have both been ranked as inadequate, is deeply worrying for pupils and their parents who attend or plan to attend these schools, and dispiriting for the teachers and our wider community.
There is not now a secondary school ranked as good anywhere in Weymouth and Portland. But changes to the way schools are judged, funded and supported has meant that this news is no surprise.
Pupils’ progress in Weymouth and Portland, with some of the most deprived wards in the country, is compared with pupils from affluent regions where more parents will be able to pay for private tutors and to make larger financial contributions to schools.
Financial pressures on schools compound this. In 2016, to reduce central government spending, the cost of national insurance contributions was transferred onto school budgets, increasing the cost of each teacher by an estimated 5%. And massive cuts to local authority children’s services means that children from troubled families are bringing more of their problems to school, leading to an increase in seriously disruptive behaviour that teachers now have to deal with.
Cuts in Government spending are having far reaching consequences in education and children in our schools now seem to be paying the price of these policies. All our children deserve to attend good schools but these don’t come by piling more work onto teachers; work traditionally done by local authorities and social services. And funding for our schools needs to reflect the challenges of the local economy.
If anything is failing it’s not the work of committed teachers and support staff in our schools but government education policy.
Firstly, let’s have a read of the letter from Mr Drax:
She was not amused.
Here is our response:
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 Echoobserves, 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.
WeyPAW – 2 May 2018
The article addresses local poverty wages and cuts to school meals provision. It gives full details our public meeting in Weymouth on Saturday (28 April – see below). Please circulate the link to friends, colleagues and neighbours, with an invitation to attend. We have also been interviewed about Saturday’s meeting by Wessex FM.
Today’s Echo also carries a major piece on jobs and wages in W&P: it seems that at last these issues are headlining consistently in local media. Good luck to councillors who are challenging Dorset County Council tomorrow to tackle the crisis in W&P.
We have excellent speakers on Saturday. Discussion will be led by Lynne Hubbard, an expert in nutrition, and by Ali Chown, a teacher and Divisional Secretary of the NEU in Dorset.
We look forward to seeing you at the meeting: “Government cuts to Free School Meals: Thousands of children will go hungry”: 28 April, 2pm in the Old Town Hall, High West Street, Boot Hill.
Weymouth and Portland needs a pay rise – our school children also need food in their bellies to function properly at school. Get behind the cause to help make a difference to everyone in the borough!