Ministers have no “adequate strategy” to tackle the problems faced by England’s most deprived communities, and a focus on economic growth will increase the gap between rich and poor further, according to a report by MPs. Spending cuts compound the problem.
The cross-party communities and local government select committee (which has a Tory/Lib Dem majority) concluded that the government’s regeneration plan “lacks strategic direction and is unclear about the nature of the problem it is trying to solve”, adding:
It [the regeneration document] focuses overwhelmingly upon the achievement of economic growth, giving little emphasis to specific issues faced by deprived communities and areas of market failure.
Clive Betts, the Labour MP chairing the committee, pointed out that a billion-pound programme to renovate housing in sink estates had been cut, leaving just £30m as a “transition fund”. He criticised the government’s emphasis on large scale projects such as high-speed rail and the London Crossrail:
The measures identified by the government focus overwhelmingly on the pursuit of economic growth. The government’s measures will not attract sufficient investment for renewal into those communities where the market has failed.
There is no sign that the private sector is filling the gap as public resources are being withdrawn… Without further investment targeted at those places most in need, ministers will store up serious social, economic and environmental problems for the future.
This echoes the conclusions of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which warned that favouring more prosperous areas of growth “risks creating a spiral of decline in certain deprived areas” and will further increase the gap between affluent and poor areas.
While this is unsurprising, it is profoundly worrying at a time when the gap between rich and poor in Britain is wider than ever before, with income inequality ahead of Ireland, Japan, Spain, Canada, Germany and France.
Indeed, ministers have made little effort to even create a strategy, with no definition of what “community-led regeneration” means, and no attempt to identify why and where it is most needed.
The problem here is the same it has always been: deprived communities tend to be disenfranchised, therefore there is little political capital to be gained from their regeneration. When times are hard, it’s the obvious thing to cut — indeed, even when times are good, as under 10 years of Labour, these projects remain on the backburner. This summer’s riots showed the nihilism of young people within these communities, and the need to regenerate.
Before coming to power, David Cameron himself noted the importance of wealth inequality, citing The Spirit Level in his 2009 Hugo Young lecture. Back in 206, he said:
The right test for our policies is how they help the most disadvantaged in society, not the rich.
Sadly, this laudable aim does not seem to have been borne out.