Successive governments have neglected proud communities in Wigan and Mansfield. (This article features in “All about towns,” Prospect’s new report in partnership with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation)by Lisa Nandy and Ben Bradley / July 9, 2019 / Leave a comment
British towns face myriad challenges and we need a national agenda to overcome them. We represent different parties, and will disagree on much of what a vision for a prosperous Britain would look like. But our constituencies of Mansfield and Wigan face a common struggle, and so far it has not been met with effective solutions. Successive governments have failed to revive the jobs, high streets and public services to ensure our communities thrive. It has led to a politics of turbulence as the voiceless find a voice. We must listen—and secure a bright future for our constituents.
A thriving community with everything it needs to support its citizens would have little trouble retaining a young workforce. But our towns are aging. In recent decades, as industrial jobs have been lost and investment and opportunities concentrated in cities, young people have left the communities they grew up in and often will never return. Towns like ours have lost much of their working age population and spending power and consequently pubs, banks, bus services and high street shops. We face an acute loneliness challenge as a result of our older populations. The inability to find a cross-party consensus on social care is felt here first and foremost.
Centre for Towns research demonstrates the extent of the challenge. Wigan’s overall population declined by 2.4 per cent between 1981 and 2011; with a 21.5 per cent decline in 16-24 year-olds but an increase of 20.5 per cent in over-65s. Mansfield’s population grew over the same period, but while the over-65 population grew by 30.3 per cent, the number of 16-24’s fell by 14.4 per cent.
The roots of this challenging trend go back much further than 2010 and span both Labour and Conservative governments. Funding for services is a big part of it, but there’s more needed than just money. We need better, well paid jobs so that people have the disposable income to invest in our towns, which have declined drastically in the last few decades. From the post office to the pub, these institutions are part of the social fabric. Their loss is felt very deeply. Those who do have the cash often go elsewhere. If we are to make our towns into vibrant social hubs again we have to…