Revealed: the cuts hit hardest where jobs are fewest

New data shows that the spending cuts are deepest in areas with the highest claimant count per vacancy.

In the latest edition of the magazine – on newsstands from tomorrow – I have interviewed shadow work and pensions secretary Liam Byrne.  It is a revealing conversation in which he insists that, contrary to received Westminster wisdom, welfare policy will be a vote winner for Labour by the time of the next election. (The Tories are working on the assumption that voters are so filled with scorn for the benefits system Labour bequeathed that they can keep on cutting with impunity and force the opposition into unelectable defence of "scroungers".) Not so, says Byrne. "Labour will win on social security."

The reason for this confidence is, broadly speaking, that coalition economic policy is failing, the welfare bill is rising and so the real cost of cuts is felt by people in work – so by definition not George Osborne’s target shirkers. As that fact becomes apparent, voters will come to be increasingly appalled by the social impact of Osborne’s axe raid on the safety net. "The Tories have crossed the threshold of decency," says Byrne. "They’re very good at conjuring up another vulnerable group to kick the crap out of  … As working people feel the kicking they’re going to get next year and as they see the way our country becomes divided, they’re going to recoil. It will remind them of the things they rejected about the Tories in 1997."

To make that point Byrne poaches the Downing Street campaign lexicon, talking repeatedly about the impact of cuts on "the strivers". This is the low-income segment of working households who once flocked to the Tories under Margaret Thatcher’s banner of middle class aspiration but who suspect Cameron and friends are not on their side.

"It’s not Britain’s shirkers who are having to pay the cost of failure, it’s Britain’s strivers," says Byrne. "The Tories are screwing Britain’s strivers."

There’s more in the magazine, including some interesting lines on how Labour would offer a new settlement without promising to spend more money.

To ram home the point about how ill-targeted and politically motivated the coalition’s austerity policies are, Byrne’s office was keen to pass on some research in which they have collaborated with Newcastle council to match the scale of local authority cuts to the relative accessibility of work in different areas. Despite the nakedly partisan source, the data are pretty interesting and so worth sharing.

Broadly speaking, the conclusion appears to be that the cuts hit hardest where jobs are fewest. The research uses a range of data from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) to draw up a league table of councils according to the value of cuts per head of population they have experienced. That was then tallied with data on the average benefit claimant count per vacancy.

What emerges is a very clear correlation between local authorities where the cuts are deepest and areas where the highest number of people are chasing the lowest number of jobs.

So, in areas where the cut per capita was £200 or more, the average number of jobseekers per vacancy was 9.3.

Where cuts per capita were £150-199, there were, on average, 6.5 claimants per vacancy.

In areas where cuts were £100-149 per head, there were 5.4 claimants per vacancy. For the £50-99 per had band, there were 4 jobseekers to every job and in the £1-49 group just 2.5 claimants per vacancy. (The national average is 3.7)


 

The top five affected councils are as follows:

Local Authority

Claimant count per vacancy Oct 2012

Cumulative change per person (scale of cuts, by Newcastle methodology)

Hackney

26.4

-£244

Knowsley

9.4

-£229

Liverpool

6.2

-£229

Newham

11.7

-£227

Tower Hamlets

10.7

-£203

Notably, they are all Labour-controlled.  There are only three Tory-controlled councils in the top 50 hardest hit areas and all ten of the least affected areas are Conservative.

Partly that just tells us that the cuts hit inner city areas, which happen also to be areas of high density unemployment. There is, no doubt, a Conservative spin on these figures which would claim that Labour councils were likely to be higher spenders and more wasteful and so are facing a more extreme belt-tightening relative to where they were in 2010.

Another way of looking at it is that the cuts are shafting people in the poorest areas and that the people out of work in those places are also the ones who face the bleakest labour market conditions. Also, that the coalition is funnelling the pain of austerity into safe Labour seats, which makes sense politically but is hardly in the spirit of keeping us all in it together.

We’ll try to get full tables up later.

A job centre is pictured in Bromley, south-east England. Photograph: Getty Images.

Rafael Behr is political columnist at the Guardian and former political editor of the New Statesman

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Who will win in Copeland? The Labour heartland hangs in the balance

The knife-edge by-election could end 82 years of Labour rule on the West Cumbrian coast.

Fine, relentless drizzle shrouds Whitehaven, a harbour town exposed on the outer edge of Copeland, West Cumbria. It is the most populous part of the coastal north-western constituency, which takes in everything from this old fishing port to Sellafield nuclear power station to England’s tallest mountain Scafell Pike. Sprawling and remote, it protrudes from the heart of the Lake District out into the Irish Sea.

Billy, a 72-year-old Whitehaven resident, is out for a morning walk along the marina with two friends, his woolly-hatted head held high against the whipping rain. He worked down the pit at the Haig Colliery for 27 years until it closed, and now works at Sellafield on contract, where he’s been since the age of 42.

“Whatever happens, a change has got to happen,” he says, hands stuffed into the pockets of his thick fleece. “If I do vote, the Bootle lass talks well for the Tories. They’re the favourites. If me mam heard me saying this now, she’d have battered us!” he laughs. “We were a big Labour family. But their vote has gone. Jeremy Corbyn – what is he?”

The Conservatives have their sights on traditional Labour voters like Billy, who have been returning Labour MPs for 82 years, to make the first government gain in a by-election since 1982.

Copeland has become increasingly marginal, held with just 2,564 votes by former frontbencher Jamie Reed, who resigned from Parliament last December to take a job at the nuclear plant. He triggered a by-election now regarded by all sides as too close to call. “I wouldn’t put a penny on it,” is how one local activist sums up the mood.

There are 10,000 people employed at the Sellafield site, and 21,000 jobs are promised for nearby Moorside – a project to build Europe’s largest nuclear power station now thrown into doubt, with Japanese company Toshiba likely to pull out.

Tories believe Jeremy Corbyn’s stance on nuclear power (he limply conceded it could be part of the “energy mix” recently, but his long prevarication betrayed his scepticism) and opposition to Trident, which is hosted in the neighbouring constituency of Barrow-in-Furness, could put off local employees who usually stick to Labour.

But it’s not that simple. The constituency may rely on nuclear for jobs, but I found a notable lack of affection for the industry. While most see the employment benefits, there is less enthusiasm for Sellafield being part of their home’s identity – particularly in Whitehaven, which houses the majority of employees in the constituency. Also, unions representing Sellafield workers have been in a dispute for months with ministers over pension cut plans.

“I worked at Sellafield for 30 years, and I’m against it,” growls Fred, Billy’s friend, a retiree of the same age who also used to work at the colliery. “Can you see nuclear power as safer than coal?” he asks, wild wiry eyebrows raised. “I’m a pit man; there was just nowhere else to work [when the colliery closed]. The pension scheme used to be second-to-none, now they’re trying to cut it, changing the terms.”

Derek Bone, a 51-year-old who has been a storeman at the plant for 15 years, is equally unconvinced. I meet him walking his dog along the seafront. “This county, Cumbria, Copeland, has always been a nuclear area – whether we like it or don’t,” he says, over the impatient barks of his Yorkshire terrier Milo. “But people say it’s only to do with Copeland. It ain’t. It employs a lot of people in the UK, outside the county – then they’re spending the money back where they’re from, not here.”

Such views might be just enough of a buffer against the damage caused by Corbyn’s nuclear reluctance. But the problem for Labour is that neither Fred nor Derek are particularly bothered about the result. While awareness of the by-election is high, many tell me that they won’t be voting this time. “Jeremy Corbyn says he’s against it [nuclear], now he’s not, and he could change his mind – I don’t believe any of them,” says Malcolm Campbell, a 55-year-old lorry driver who is part of the nuclear supply chain.

Also worrying for Labour is the deprivation in Copeland. Everyone I speak to complains about poor infrastructure, shoddy roads, derelict buildings, and lack of investment. This could punish the party that has been in power locally for so long.

The Tory candidate Trudy Harrison, who grew up in the coastal village of Seascale and now lives in Bootle, at the southern end of the constituency, claims local Labour rule has been ineffective. “We’re isolated, we’re remote, we’ve been forgotten and ignored by Labour for far too long,” she says.

I meet her in the town of Millom, at the southern tip of the constituency – the opposite end to Whitehaven. It centres on a small market square dominated by a smart 19th-century town hall with a mint-green domed clock tower. This is good Tory door-knocking territory; Millom has a Conservative-led town council.

While Harrison’s Labour opponents are relying on their legacy vote to turn out, Harrison is hoping that the same people think it’s time for a change, and can be combined with the existing Tory vote in places like Millom. “After 82 years of Labour rule, this is a huge ask,” she admits.

Another challenge for Harrison is the threat to services at Whitehaven’s West Cumberland Hospital. It has been proposed for a downgrade, which would mean those seeking urgent care – including children, stroke sufferers, and those in need of major trauma treatment and maternity care beyond midwifery – would have to travel the 40-mile journey to Carlisle on the notoriously bad A595 road.

Labour is blaming this on Conservative cuts to health spending, and indeed, Theresa May dodged calls to rescue the hospital in her campaign visit last week. “The Lady’s Not For Talking,” was one local paper front page. It also helps that Labour’s candidate, Gillian Troughton, is a St John Ambulance driver, who has driven the dangerous journey on a blue light.

“Seeing the health service having services taken away in the name of centralisation and saving money is just heart-breaking,” she tells me. “People are genuinely frightened . . . If we have a Tory MP, that essentially gives them the green light to say ‘this is OK’.”

But Harrison believes she would be best-placed to reverse the hospital downgrade. “[I] will have the ear of government,” she insists. “I stand the very best chance of making sure we save those essential services.”

Voters are concerned about the hospital, but divided on the idea that a Tory MP would have more power to save it.

“What the Conservatives are doing with the hospitals is disgusting,” a 44-year-old carer from Copeland’s second most-populated town of Egremont tells me. Her partner, Shaun Grant, who works as a labourer, agrees. “You have to travel to Carlisle – it could take one hour 40 minutes; the road is unpredictable.” They will both vote Labour.

Ken, a Conservative voter, counters: “People will lose their lives over it – we need someone in the circle, who can influence the government, to change it. I think the government would reward us for voting Tory.”

Fog engulfs the jagged coastline and rolling hills of Copeland as the sun begins to set on Sunday evening. But for most voters and campaigners here, the dense grey horizon is far clearer than what the result will be after going to the polls on Thursday.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.