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Poverty StreetThe dynamics of neighbourhood decline and renewal$

Ruth Lupton

Print publication date: 2003

Print ISBN-13: 9781861345356

Published to Policy Press Scholarship Online: March 2012

DOI: 10.1332/policypress/9781861345356.001.0001

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The 1990s: decline and divergence

The 1990s: decline and divergence

Chapter:
(p.66) (p.67) Three The 1990s: decline and divergence
Source:
Poverty Street
Author(s):

Ruth Lupton

Publisher:
Policy Press
DOI:10.1332/policypress/9781861345356.003.0004

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter discusses the history of the areas' decline and divergence during the 1990s. It is noted that the fortunes of Southside and West-City pull apart. These two areas represent the extremes of the contrasts between poor neighbourhoods in the 1990s. The changing profile of the labour market had its impact both for older workers and prospective labour-market entrants. Economic change affected social and psychological outcomes as well as earnings and incomes. It is also observed that, in all the northern cities and outlying industrial areas, underlying trends of depopulation were deepening poverty concentrations in the least popular areas and neighbourhoods and, in some cases, literally beginning to empty them out. The uneven patterns of development meant that the fortunes of the areas started to diverge as they continued to be driven by the wider forces of the economic change, population movements, and housing demand.

Keywords:   Southside, West-City, poor neighbourhoods, labour market, poverty, economic change, population, housing

Area fortunes pull apart: Southside and West-City

There is no better illustration of the contrasts of the 1990s than the stories of Southside, the cluster of small towns in heavily industrialised Teesside, and West-City, the densely flatted inner London neighbourhood close to the City.

Southside had traditionally been poor, but in the 1950s and 1960s it was enjoying a post-war boom. We were told that Borough View’s main shopping street had about 360 shops, including branches of national retailers, and that jobs were readily available in the steel and chemical industries. One former resident described how people could expect to finish one job and walk into another on the same day, such was the demand for labour. All of this collapsed in the next two decades. Half the total jobs, and nearly two thirds of male full-time jobs, disappeared. People moved away, undermining the basis for shops and services, while the building of a new bypass cut off Borough View’s town centre and effectively killed it off as a commercial area.

But it was in the 1990s that the area reached a critical point. Jobs continued to be lost throughout the decade, as ICI and British Steel underwent further rationalisation. The location of the area and its heavily industrialised past and contaminated land gave it no relative advantages for inward investors. Although incentives were offered for inward investment, similar opportunities were also available throughout the sub-region. New developments tended to locate in the North Tees rather than the South Tees area. The entire sub-region was doing badly compared to the national picture, but Southside was even worse off than its local neighbours.

The calamitous population losses also continued. Southside’s population diminished by an estimated 12% between 1991 and 1998, Borough View’s by 23%. By the mid-1990s it was estimated that the town had only about 7,000 people, about a third of its post-war population. Empty homes were appearing in large numbers on the main council estate, which initially had about 550 homes, and to a lesser extent in an area of pre-1919 terraced properties (about 1,200 homes), which were mostly privately owned. The nearby town, Furnace Walk, also had large numbers of empty homes.

As people moved away, poverty concentrations increased. Homes were mainly let to people who had little other choice of housing. In the private sector area, privately owned houses were turned over to renting, bringing more transient residents. The impact of long-term unemployment began to be felt in rising (p.68) crime and drug misuse. Swathes of empty housing provided opportunities for theft and vandalism. Between 1994 and 1996, crime and disorder problems flared up on the main council estate, with large numbers of unoccupied properties on the outer edge of the estate being vandalised and fire damaged.

As conditions on the estate worsened, some residents took advantage of the availability of private sector or housing association homes and left, sometimes with no notice. The housing manager reported how tenants would simply leave over the weekend and move into a new tenancy with another landlord, leaving their home unsecured and vulnerable to theft and vandalism before its owner discovered that the inhabitants had gone. The empty property problem spread into the heart of the estate “like a cancer” (housing manager).

Between 1997 and 1999, 160 council homes in Borough View were demolished to restore the estate environment and bring supply in line with demand. With funding from the SRB, the remaining homes were improved internally, with new kitchens and bathrooms, and externally, with new boundary walls, parking areas and security lights. The estate stabilised and by 1999 only 13 properties were empty.

The 1990s: decline and divergence

Empty properties on Borough View’s council estate await demolition

However, the supply of homes in the area still exceeded the underlying demand and as the council estate improved, the number of empty homes in the private sector housing area increased. Again, empty homes became the target of crime, rubbish dumping and antisocial behaviour and brought a sense of decline and dereliction. Property prices plummeted, so that by 1999 a two-bedroomed house could be bought for £5,000. Unwilling or unable to sell, some residents let their homes and moved away, or even abandoned their properties. By 1999, about 370 of the 1,200 homes were empty, and many others had been bought up at very low prices by private landlords, of which there were now over 100 in the area. With little capital outlay and Housing Benefit of approximately £55 per week for rent, many such landlords had no interest in the area or in enforcing tenancy conditions. As long-standing residents left, a higher proportion of the new tenants were young, transient, vulnerable or disruptive. Living conditions deteriorated further, fuelling the exodus of people and the area’s unpopularity, and thus undermining the demand base for local shops and services. By 1999, there were no more than a handful of shops in Borough View’s main street, and the long-term viability of the neighbourhood began to be questioned.

West-City, meanwhile, was on a different trajectory. It had also suffered population and job losses during the 1970s and 1980s, but by the 1990s this process was beginning to go into reverse. There was economic growth, significantly in excess of the national average, with a 30% increase in jobs over the period. As the City of London boomed, West-City was close by, offering (p.69) affordable business rents and a stock of warehouses and factories ripe for conversion. The neighbourhood closest to the City was the first to benefit. During the second half of the 1990s, as property prices elsewhere rocketed, this neighbourhood was colonised by artists, film studios and other media industries, by cafes and night clubs for City workers, and later by bigger firms as rising rents pushed the smaller concerns into other, cheaper, areas. A local property developer described the area as “the next Covent Garden”, such was the speed of its transformation.

Job growth and the ‘trendification’ of the area had a knock-on impact on the

The 1990s: decline and divergence

A new canalside office development in West-City (Hackney) contrasts with the run-down market

housing market as West-City began to be popularised as a residential location for highly paid City workers. This process began to be very noticeable in 1997/98. Very rapid rises in house prices in the more popular areas of inner London forced buyers to look for affordable homes in previously downmarket areas. West-City was one such area. House prices rose by 86% between 1996 and 1999, reaching an average price of £163,000 in 1999, well beyond the reach of anyone on a low or middle income. Tenant representatives commented on a sense that the area was “up and coming” but also that existing residents, or their children who might want to stay in the area, were being “squeezed out by gentrification”, too advantaged to gain access to social housing, and too disadvantaged to enter the private market.

While the middle was squeezed out of the housing market, there was growing demand at the bottom as well as at the top. Like most areas of inner London, West-City was facing increasing demand for its housing, mainly from the homeless and from refugees. A local priest observed that the international crises seen on television almost inevitably had local consequences as small groups of displaced people arrived several months later to begin a new life in West-City. The influx of these very disadvantaged households meant that the concentration of the poor continued, even though the number of higher income residents increased.

It also meant that the area underwent rapid ethnic change. A survey in 1999 showed that the minority ethnic population had risen from 28% in 1991 to 37%, with 20% of households speaking a language other than English at home. White residents were concentrated in the older age groups, with minority ethnic communities having a much younger profile. A total of 77% of children in the (p.70) local primary schools were from minority ethnic groups (Mumford and Power, 2003). The biggest change in both cases was the growth in the African communities, particularly from Somalia and from West African countries such as Nigeria, Ghana and Sierra Leone. Eastern European refugees, particularly Serbs, Bosnians and Kosovans, also started to arrive in the late 1990s.

Immigration, gentrification and the higher birth/death ratio of minority ethnic communities meant that, in sharp contrast to that of Southside, West-City’s population actually grew during the 1990s, by 3.4%, keeping pace with the national rate. Council flats were in poor condition and not necessarily a location of choice, but there was no difficulty finding tenants. In 1999, the housing manager reported that about 3% of the homes were empty, roughly the national average, and none of these long term. While Southside was semi-abandoned and increasingly derelict, West-City was full. It looked and felt busy.

However, because of the circumstances of the incomers, the growth in the population was adding to the poverty problem and not taking it away. In 1998, West-City was one of the most deprived areas in the study, with high levels of benefit claims, poor health, high unemployment and low literacy. There was increasing polarisation within the area and the problems of those at the bottom of the economic pile remained as acute as ever.

These two areas represent the extremes of the contrasts between poor neighbourhoods in the 1990s: the abandoned industrial North compared with crowded, polarised inner London. Others were less stark examples, but they demonstrate the same forces at work. Structural changes were continuing, but they were impacting unevenly, causing the fortunes of the disadvantaged neighbourhoods to diverge.

Uneven economic recovery

In England and Wales as a whole, the economic story of the 1990s was one of employment growth and of a continuing shift from manufacturing to service jobs. Following a slight dip at the beginning of the decade, the number of people in employment grew steadily to 1998, the year in which we selected the study areas. Overall job growth in this period was 9%. The number of part-time jobs grew faster (by 13%) than the number of full-time jobs (7%). However, full-time jobs made up a larger proportion of the total and therefore accounted for a larger proportion of the overall growth (6%) than part-time jobs (3%) (Figure 3.1). The service sector was the main growth engine. Manufacturing declined by 1% while there was a 30% increase in banking, finance and insurance and 20% in other services.

This was, then, a national economic context that was certainly more positive than it had been for most of the previous two decades. However, as previously, growth was not evenly distributed. The main growth areas were New Towns and cities in the South of England (including inner London), while northern cities had slower growth and coastal cities actually lost jobs (Robson et al, 2000). (p.71)

The 1990s: decline and divergence

Figure 3.1: Job growth in England and Wales (1991–98)

Source: Annual Employment Survey data from NOMIS

Because of sectoral shifts, cities that were heavily dependent on manufacturing suffered heavy losses that could not be offset by service sector growth. Manchester, for example, lost 9% of its total employment between 1991 and 1996, Liverpool 12%, Sheffield 6% and Birmingham 5% (Turok and Edge, 1999). On this basis, Breheny (1999) asserted that “those who have argued that cities have stemmed their decline and ‘turned themselves round’ on the basis of the information economy and knowledge-based services are flying in the face of the evidence” (p 17). There was, he claims, little evidence that the factors causing the decline of manufacturing in cities, such as the availability of industrial land and premises, had significantly changed, and nor had most of the factors that accounted for private sector service growth outside cities: urban depopulation, corporate reorganisation, availability of premises, changing working practices and the locational preferences of the self-employed.

There were, of course, exceptions. Cities with more diverse economies, such as London, Leeds and Nottingham, were in a better position. Although they lost manufacturing jobs in considerable number (Turok and Edge, 1999, reported that 22% of manufacturing jobs in London were lost between 1991 and 1996), service sector jobs more than made up for these losses. The number of jobs in Leeds grew by 7% and in Nottingham by 12% during this early to mid-1990s period. But these were star performers in a cast of cities that was generally performing poorly in economic terms. Outside the cities, in industrial areas, prospects of significant service sector growth were even more limited and depended on location and specific local features of the business infrastructure as well as on the wider regional economic context.

Most of the 12 study areas were, as described in Chapter Two, in the wrong place to benefit from this pattern of uneven growth. In northern cities, outlying industrial areas and coastal towns, they were located in precisely the places that (p.72) were the losers in economic restructuring. In 1998, after five years of national economic recovery, the majority were absolutely worse off in employment terms than they had been at the start of the decade, and even those that gained jobs were struggling to keep up with national job growth. However, there were marked differences. West-City was the major gainer but two of the other city areas, The Valley (Sheffield) and Kirkside East (Leeds) also gained jobs, although their growth was slower than the national average. On the other hand, three of the northern city areas were actual job losers as was the coastal town (Beachville in Kent), which had seen job growth in the 1980s, and two of the industrial areas outside cities (Figure 3.2). Shipview in Newcastle lost over half its jobs, with key large employers undergoing restructuring between 1996 and 1998.

The stories of these areas demonstrate the relationship between local factors and wider economic trends in determining economic trajectories. To prosper, areas needed to be both located within a well-performing regional economy and to have beneficial characteristics that would ensure job growth in their locality rather than others. West-City was a good example. The other areas that saw job growth also had locational or infrastructure advantages. High Moor, in Blackburn, benefited from the extension of the M65 motorway and the development and modernisation of nearby business parks. Its location meant that its economic performance was actually better than that of the town as a whole. The Valley, close to Sheffield’s Don Valley redevelopment, Kirkside East in Leeds, and Fairfields in Caerphilly, also gained jobs, although they all

The 1990s: decline and divergence

Figure 3.2: Overall job change for study areas (1991–98)

Note: London areas to far left of figure, followed by Northern cities, then other areas outside major cities.

Source: Annual Employment Survey data from NOMIS

(p.73) experienced losses in male full-time jobs within a picture of overall growth. Fairfields and Kirkside East had very small local labour markets, of about 3,000–4,000 jobs, which were influenced considerably in percentage terms by the activities of one or two large firms.

By contrast, the job losers were located in weaker economies and/or lacked specific local advantages. Overtown in Knowsley was an example of an area with certain locational benefits in the context of a struggling regional economy. It had long suffered from ‘branch plant syndrome’, and continued to lose out through rationalisations and the decisions of multinational companies to source supply overseas. The area suffered significant job losses in the early 1990s. When the regional economy started to recover, it was positioned relatively well, with good transport links and available business park space, to capitalise on call centre and distribution work, and it made a small recovery up to 1998, but not sufficient to make up for earlier losses. Southside in Redcar and Cleveland, as described earlier, was relatively disadvantaged even within an underperforming region and sub-region.

The nature of work

Apart from changes in numbers of jobs, there was another important structural change taking place during the 1990s. Employment advisers and regeneration staff in Southside reported that many of the new jobs that the area was able to attract were in low-skilled, low-paid occupations, notably food processing. This was a familiar account. The main growth sectors mentioned by employment workers in most of the 12 areas were telework, retail or low-skilled factory work. In Fairfields in South Wales, firms on the industrial estates mainly employed people in low-paid packing or warehousing jobs. In Birmingham’s Middle Row, there was an abundance of small businesses, shops, restaurants and taxi firms, all paying low wages, some as little as £2 per hour. In London’s East-Docks, young adults reported working for £2.50 per hour in packing factories. Although in many cases the introduction of the national minimum wage in 1999 had raised workers’ pay, it was not always applied and in some cases actually led to wage reductions. In Beachville, the seaside town where there were vacancies in cleaning and catering, and seasonal vacancies in agriculture and tourism, employment advisers reported that some small firms had actually reduced wages to the minimum wage level.

The other area of growth was at the top end of the job market. A major pharmaceuticals company was expanding close to Beachville and a marine and offshore technology centre had opened on the site of the former shipyards in Shipview, Newcastle. These jobs were beyond the skills of most local jobseekers. Even in existing firms like the steel and chemical industries in Southside, production jobs were becoming more skilled and technical. It was the middle ground in the job market that was continuing to erode.

This polarisation in skills applied in job growth as well as job loss areas. ‘More (p.74) jobs’ often meant more part-time jobs, and/or low-paid or temporary work. Data from the Annual Employment Survey shows that, although there were exceptions, job losses in the areas were largely accounted for by losses in full-time jobs and job increases by gains in part-time jobs. Male full-time jobs were particularly vulnerable. Even in areas that made overall job gains, there were usually male full-time job losses. In seven areas, part-time jobs made up a bigger proportion of the total in 1998 than in 1991. These were large percentage point changes, compared with relatively small changes in the other direction in the other five areas (Table 3.1).

Table 3.1: Employment change (1991–98)

Employment change (as % of all jobs in 1991)

Full-time jobs (male full-time jobs)

Part-time jobs

All jobs

Part-time jobs as % of total (1991)

Part-time jobs as % of total (1998)

West-City (Hackney)

+28 (+32)

+2

+30

19

16

High Moor (Blackburn)

+8 (+4)

+4

+12

17

29

Kirkside East (Leeds)

-5 (-10)

+14

+8

35

45

The Valley (Sheffield)

+3 (-3)

+4

+7

14

17

Fairfields (Caerphilly)

-3 (-11)

+9

+6

20

27

Overtown (Knowsley)

-1 (0)

0

-1

24

24

Riverlands (Nottingham)

-14 (-15)

1 1

-3

17

29

Middle Row (Birmingham)

-8 (-9)

-3

-10

20

19

Southside (Redcar and Cleveland)

-3 (-10)

-8

-1 1

29

24

East-Docks (Newham)

-18 (-27)

0

-18

12

14

Beachville (Thanet)

-10 (-20)

-8

-18

36

34

Shipview (Newcastle)

-48 (-64)

-3

-SI

16

27

England and Wales

+6 (+5)

+3

+9

26

27

Source: Census of Employment/Annual Employment Survey data from NOMIS

Unemployment and worklessness

Net job losses, particularly in male full-time jobs, might have been expected to result in rising unemployment. They did not. In all the 12 local authority areas in the study, the numbers of people claiming unemployment benefit fell, in absolute terms, between 1991 and 1998 (Table 3.2). Most had falls similar to the national average.

These absolute falls were, in every area, reflected in falls in the unemployment rate (Figure 3.3). The data shown here expresses unemployment as a percentage of the working-age population, rather than as a percentage of the estimated workforce which is the method used in published data. This is to ensure a calculation method consistent with that used for ward-level data, rates for which are not published for this period. It is worth noting that this is a method that (p.75)

Table 3.2: Local authority-level unemployment (1991–98)

Number of claimant unemployed April 1991

Number of claimant unemployed April 1998

Change as %of 1991

Hackney

16,100

13,300

-17

Newham

14,400

1 1,100

-23

Knowsley

12,400

7,000

-44

Nottingham

17,100

1 1,400

-34

Newcastle

16,400

11,000

-33

Sheffield

26,900

18,000

-33

Blackburn

5,800

3,300

-43

Birmingham

56,400

38,400

-32

Caerphilly

7,300

4,200

-42

Redcar and Cleveland

9,600

5,300

-44

Leeds

27,800

19,200

-31

Thanet

5,400

4,400

-18

England and Wales

1,882,500

1,189,400

-37

Source: Claimant count data from NOMIS

tends to underestimate unemployment because it includes in the denominator people who are of working age but who are not in the labour market.

Data at the area level is only available from 1996, but shows that in all of the study areas there was a fall in unemployment from 1996 to 1998, both in absolute numbers (Table 3.3) and rates per working-age population (Figure 3.4). In most

The 1990s: decline and divergence

Figure 3.3: Falls in claimant unemployment (April 1991-April 1998)

Sources: Claimant unemployed from NOMIS. Population figures (aged 15–64) from ONS mid-year estimates of population

(p.76)

Table 3.3: Area-level unemployment (1996–98)

Numbers of claimant unemployed April 1996

Numbers of claimant unemployed April 1998

Change as %of 1996

West-City (Hackney)

2,660

1,830

-31.1

East-Docks (Newham)

1,610

1,270

-33.7

Overtown (Knowsley)

2,600

2,070

-20.3

Riverlands (Nottingham)

2,760

1,710

-38.0

Shipview (Newcastle)

2,300

1,700

-26.1

The Valley (Sheffield)

1,400

1,100

-22.4

High Moor (Blackburn)

930

590

-36.6

Middle Row (Birmingham)

2,800

2,120

-24.0

Fairfields (Caerphilly)

840

580

-31.9

Southside (Redcar and Cleveland)

1,510

1,1 10

-26.5

Kirkside East (Leeds)

1,220

830

-31.9

Beachville (Thanet)

2,220

1,490

-33.8

England and Wales

1,937,100

1,189,400

-39.6

Sources: Claimant count data from NOMIS

cases, the rate reduction in percentage point terms was greater than the national average, as might be expected given that the areas had a lot further to fall (Figure 3.4). However, in relation to their starting point (Table 3.3), all the areas performed worse than the national average, reflecting lower levels of job readiness. Evans et al (2002),
The 1990s: decline and divergence

Figure 3.4: Falls in claimant unemployment at area level (April 1996-April 1998)

Sources: Claimant unemployed from NOMIS. Population figures (aged 15–64) from ONS mid-year estimates of population

(p.77) looking at the period 1995–2000, also found that the decline in benefit claims, in their case Income Support as well as Jobseeker’s Allowance, was lower in areas with high claim rates than in those with low claim rates, thus increasing polarisation. Unemployment remained relatively high in all the areas at the end of the period.

Moreover, trends in claimant unemployment can only be treated as one indicator of economic performance. First, rates of claiming are heavily influenced by the rules of the benefit system. Beatty et al (2002) estimate that the claimant unemployed only make up about one third of all unemployed people, including those who are looking for work but not claiming1, those on government schemes, people on sickness-related benefits and people who have retired early because there was no work available. Second, falls in unemployment, however measured, only reflect one aspect of a complicated process of labour market adjustment, as revealed by the use of labour market accounts (LMAs). LMAs add up changes in the working-age population, the inactive working-age population and the number of commuters, to demonstrate the impact of changes in the number of jobs in an area on the numbers of people unemployed. For example, an area can see falling unemployment even if the number of jobs falls, because the working-age population falls by a greater number. Conversely, unemployment can rise even if the number of jobs rises, because the new jobs and others are taken by in-commuters. Using LMAs, Beatty and Fothergill (1998) observed that in the UK coalfields, where there was a nine tenths loss of employment between 1981 and 1994, unemployment rates not only fell but converged with the national average, the consequence of job losses being seen not in registered unemployment but in out-migration or labour market withdrawal. The biggest single mechanism was the rise in economic inactivity, which included retirement, permanent sickness, full-time education or the informal labour market. Nationally, too, inactivity rose throughout the 1990s, while unemployment fell from 1993 onwards. The biggest rises in inactivity were among the unskilled, with a staggering increase over time from 4% in 1979 to 17% in 1990, rising to 30% in 2000 (Economist, 2001).

Drawing up LMAs is not possible at local area level, only for local authorities. Large local authorities, such as Birmingham, contain numerous local labour markets, some of them totally inaccessible from the study area, so using LMAs for the local authority would tell us little about the processes at work in our local areas. I have therefore looked here just at the four compact local authority areas in the study where the labour market for the local authority area corresponds reasonably well to the labour market for the study area – Blackburn, Knowsley, Redcar and Cleveland and Thanet. The data is only available from 1996.

Table 3.4 shows that all of these four districts lost resident jobs in the period from 1996 to the start of the study in 1998. In three cases, Blackburn, Redcar and Cleveland, and Thanet, they show exactly the same process that Beatty and Fothergill (1998) uncovered. The decline in resident jobs was entirely offset by the loss in working-age population and the growth in inactivity, causing (p.78)

Table 3.4: Labour market accounts (1996–98)

Blackburn

Redcar and Cleveland

Thanet

Knowsley

Change in local labour demand (number of resident employees)

-5,000

-3,000

-4,000

-3,000

Accounted for by:

Change in number of employees

8,000

-2,400

1,700

1,200

Less change in net in-commuting

13,000

600

5,700

4,200

Change in local labour supply (economically active working-age population)

-8,000

-6,000

-4,000

0

Accounted for by:

Change in working-age population

-3,000

-1,000

-4,000

1,000

Change in inactive population

5,000

5,000

0

1,000

Equals: Change in resident unemployment

-3,000

-3,000

0

3,000

Sources: Annual Employment Survey, Labour Force Survey

unemployment to fall or stay static. The number of resident jobs fell, but so too did the working-age population. At the same time, inactivity rose. Thus, although there were fewer jobs, there were also fewer unemployed people. Falling unemployment in these circumstances appears to reflect people moving or becoming inactive in response to a difficult labour market more than it reflects a transition from worklessness to work.

The changing profile of the labour market had its impact both for older workers and prospective labour market entrants – older people realising that their chances of satisfactory and secure employment might be slim, and younger people finding it hard to look forward to jobs with no identifiable trade, poor pay, little progression and possibly little security. Respondents made a direct connection between individual worklessness and the nature of jobs on offer:

“People are getting work, but it’s part-time or temporary work. Often it’s low-paid. Some of these lead to permanent jobs but by no means all. It’s a core and periphery situation. Lots of firms have reduced down to their core workers and those people are OK and stay in jobs, but people on the periphery have to pick up bits of work here and there but don’t really get permanent or secure positions.… There’s a genuine lack of well-paid employment.” (employment adviser, High Moor, Blackburn)

“There are jobs but there aren’t necessarily the jobs that people want. For people who are used to claiming benefit, that’s their automatic first option, then a job’s second. If they’re going to work they expect to get more from working than they can from benefit, and the service (p.79) sector jobs aren’t offering the right salaries.” (employment adviser, West-City, Hackney)

“… [the young people] hardly ever get decent jobs. The men do better. They seem to get warehouse work or labouring or the Post Office but the women mainly get packing or factory jobs. They’re badly paid and there’s no job security or health and safety. So there’s a general apathy about work and low expectations.” (youth worker, East-Docks, Newham)

While these respondents saw low expectations and apathy as a response to the kind of job opportunities on offer, in policy circles lack of incentive to work presented another problem – the danger of ‘a benefit culture’ and the development of an underclass cut off from the world of work. To stop people relying permanently on the security of benefits, and to connect them to employment opportunities as the economy recovered, successive governments in the 1990s attempted to tighten the unemployment benefit system, with greater requirements on claimants to demonstrate active jobseeking. This was especially the case after the introduction of the New Deal for the Unemployed in 1997. It became more difficult to claim benefit while not actively looking for work or while topping up income with informal cash-in-hand work. As a result, withdrawal from an unattractive labour market led increasingly to ‘signing off’ onto sickness benefits or into the informal labour market, rather than ‘signing on’ for unemployment benefit.

“Some of the fall in the register is due to older people, New Deal 25+, who are dropping off the register because they’re working already. In this office we’ve been tightening up generally and that does account for people dropping off. One man even sent his card back with a note saying he couldn’t be bothered with all the hassle.” (employment adviser, Kirkside East, Leeds)

“… it’s surprising that the register’s gone down so much because there’s been no real change in the number of jobs. The main reason is probably people dropping off the register.” (employment adviser, Fairfields, Caerphilly)

‘Dropping off’ the register could mean switching to another benefit, typically Incapacity Benefit, which imposed fewer requirements. In six areas, the number of adults claiming Incapacity Benefit in 1998 was equal to or greater than the number of people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance. The highest proportion was in the Welsh former mining area, Fairfields, where 10% of adults were claiming Incapacity Benefit and just 3% claimed Jobseeker’s Allowance. A recent survey of the non-employed in Thanet showed that while a third of non-employed (p.80) men were claiming Incapacity Benefit, more than twice as many claimed Jobseeker’s Allowance (Beatty and Fothergill, 2003a).

Moreover, for those staying in the labour market, changes in the structure of work meant that the prospect of ‘churning’ increased, with periods in work or on training schemes followed by periods on benefit. As an Employment Service worker in Sheffield commented:

“There aren’t enough quality jobs – lots of part-time service sector jobs that don’t last. There’s also a high turnover in manufacturing jobs, so you get people coming on and off the register.” (employment adviser, Sheffield)

McKnight (2002) has described this as a ‘low pay/no pay cycle’ with low-paid employees more likely to become unemployed than those in higher-paid jobs and unemployed people most likely to enter low-paid jobs than to get anything better rewarded.

Thus the picture that emerged from the 12 areas was that falling unemployment masked changes in local labour markets which were generally to the detriment of low-skilled workers, causing an increasing divergence both between households and between neighbourhoods, exactly as suggested by Green in 1996:

… the decline in the number of non-precarious job opportunities for those at the lower end of the occupational spectrum, in many instances exacerbated by problems of spatial mismatch, would appear to be leading to a growth in no-earner households, neighbourhoods and labour markets, in conjunction with a growth in ‘dual-career’ neighbourhoods and labour markets in other locations within the urban and regional system. (Green, 1996, p 290)

Inequality, social change and social exclusion

Because economic restructuring continued in the 1990s, so too did its corollaries: inequality and labour market uncertainty.

While Hills (1995) has shown that, although earnings differentials did not widen much further in the early 1990s than they had done in the 1970s and 1980s, there was no evidence of a reversing trend. Earnings had become widely differentiated, as technological change and globalisation had both increased rewards for those with high-level skills and qualifications and created a large pool of low-skilled and low-paid jobs. While the real disposable incomes of the poorest 10% of households had remained virtually static since 1980, those of the richest 10% increased by one-and-a-half times (SEU, 2001b). Work had become relatively more rewarding to the highly skilled, and necessarily relatively less rewarding to the low-skilled. Agulnik et al (2002), for example, showed that in 1998, the (p.81) difference in risk of unemployment between the unqualified and the average risk was twice what it was in 1979. Once unemployed, people remained so for three times as long as they did in the early 1970s. And benefit levels continued to fall behind levels of earnings. By 2002, Income Support levels were just 20% of average earnings, compared with 30% in the early 1980s, their lowest ever relative level (Rahman et al, 2001).

Differences in earnings and accumulated wealth meant that the spending power and lifestyles of the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ were poles apart. The aspirational world shaped by the marketing departments of global companies was increasingly affordable to the rich and increasingly unaffordable to the poor. For those born to low-income households, upward social mobility had become increasingly unlikely. McKnight (2002) found that young adults born in 1970 to low-income households faced greater disadvantages, in terms of both the probability of being in work and the earnings penalty, than those born in 1958. Although the expansion of middle-class occupations since the 1960s had meant that there was more ‘room’ for working-class children to be upwardly mobile, in reality the chances of them doing so had become smaller (Aldridge, 2001).

Economic change affected social and psychological outcomes as well as earnings and incomes. Sennett (1998) has plausibly argued that changes in economic structure and employment practices inevitably contributed to increasing uncertainty and to the weakening of other social institutions. The values of employment with a large, locally based firm – security in return for loyalty and mutual effort – were consistent with the values of long-term relationships and mutual associations. The values of employment in the new economy are different: the expectation of numerous short-term contracts, the building of portfolios of transferable skills, high rewards for individual contributions, and the essential disposability of the worker in the interests of large companies driven by short-term shareholder profit rather than long-term investment and growth. These are more consistent with a flexible and contingent approach to relationships and interest group memberships. Forrest and Kearns (2001) have referred to a change:

… from the stability of the post-war era based on universalism, organised trade unionism, rising real earnings, the patriarchal family and relatively secure employment … to … greater individuation in welfare rights and insurances against risk, a widening gap between those with and those without the necessary credentials for the new informational age and the rise of less secure and atypical forms of employment. As the role of the male breadwinner becomes increasingly compromised, so too does male identity. (p 2127)

Seen in these terms, the fact that economic change happened contemporaneously with the weakening of other social institutions, such as marriage, churches, and trades unions, cannot be seen as entirely coincidental.

Whatever the causal mechanisms, the 1990s saw the continuation of a trend (p.82) towards greater labour market uncertainty alongside the fragmentation of other familiar structures of stability, and in the context of widening inequality. Those at the bottom of the income distribution were becoming increasingly distant from the opportunities afforded to those at the top, while social support structures that might have provided inclusion, in a social rather than an economic sense, were also being weakened by an increasingly individualistic and materialistic culture. As Castells (1997) has argued, these were ways of living that brought greater discontinuity and risk, and therefore a higher incidence of job loss, mental illness, drug dependency and general precariousness. While these were not new developments in the 1990s, they were certainly not things of the past. Their continued development ensured that, despite economic growth, social exclusion remained a problem and that, even in situations of job growth, areas of long-term relative poverty still faced linked problems of high unemployment, low skills, disaffection, low educational attainment, youth crime and disorder, poor health, drugs, teenage pregnancy, family breakdown and parenting problems. By the latter half of the decade, the UK was distinguished from other EU countries by its high levels of inequality and social exclusion. It topped the European league for children growing up in workless households, for teenage pregnancy rates and for drug use among young people. Adult illiteracy rates were among the highest in Europe (SEU, 2001b).

Meanwhile, changes in population and in housing policy combined to increase the concentration of the disadvantaged within the least advantaged areas. While social exclusion continued, its spatial concentration increased. There were two distinct forces at work. In northern urban areas, particularly outer-city areas and council estates, and in industrial areas, populations continued to decline, leaving areas that were seriously depleted and extremely unpopular. These areas concentrated the poor, because people with greater choice would almost invariably seek to avoid them. On the other hand, some inner-urban areas, particularly in London, were coming under increasing housing pressure, but mainly from large numbers of immigrants, many of them disadvantaged in the labour market and/ or on low incomes.

Population drain and unpopular housing

In half of the areas at least2, the population decline of the 1970s and 1980s continued into the 1990s. While it was estimated that the national population grew by 3% between 1991 and 1998, population estimates for six of the areas suggest that their populations continued to decline, albeit typically more slowly than in the previous two decades, when major job losses and housing redevelopments had caused large-scale population movements. While birth to death ratios mostly compared favourably with the national average, more people were moving out than moving in (Table 3.5).

Area changes were a reflection of broader trends. In only one case, Riverlands in Nottingham, was the area losing population when the district in which it was (p.83)

Table 3.5: Population losses (1971–98)

Change 1971–91 (%)

Change 1991–98 (%)

Birth/death ratio 1998

Overtown (Knowsley)

-4

1.13

Riverlands (Nottingham)

-32

-2

1.35

Shipview (Newcastle)

-22

-7

0.95

The Valley (Sheffield)

-21

-7

0.92

Southside (Redcar and Cleveland)

-12

1.23

Kirkside East (Leeds)

-21

-9

1.17

England and Wales

+4

+3

1.15

Notes:

1. 1971–1991 change calculated using Census data (population present on Census night). Blanks indicate areas where boundary changes make comparison impossible for this period.

2. 1991 -1998 data calculated using mid-year population estimates. 1998 data were taken directly from estimates produced for use with IMD. These are not directly comparable with Census data. However, there are no mid-year estimates at ward level for 1991. These were calculated by attributing 1991 Census ward population shares to 1991 mid-year estimates for districts.

Sources: 1971 and 1991 Census data. ONS mid-year estimates. University of Oxford ward-level population estimates calculated for use with IMD

located was more or less keeping up with the national trend. Nottingham’s estimated population grew by 2.1% between 1991 and 1998. The pattern elsewhere was that the study areas seemed to be losing population faster than their local authority areas, which were also doing badly relative to the national average. Redcar and Cleveland (–5.2%), Knowsley (–1.5%) and Newcastle (–0.8%) all apparently lost population during the early part of the 1990s. Leeds (+1.4%) and Sheffield (+0.3%) made significantly smaller gains than the national average. The lack of demand was reflected in house prices, as shown by HM Land Registry data, available at postcode sector-level from 1996 onwards. In a time of booming house prices (1996–99), all of these local authority areas had lower house price rises than the national average, ranging between 8% and 20%, against a national average of 35%.

These changes reflected economic trends, changes in people’s preferences about their living environments, and housing policies. They were changes that affected whole districts, not just particular areas. Research from the ESRC Cities programme (Begg et al, 2002) shows that major conurbations were continuing to decline in the 1990s, although at a slower rate than previously, as they lost people to small towns and rural areas. West Yorkshire and London were the best performers, each showing signs of recovery. Industrial districts outside the big cities, such as Knowsley and Redcar and Cleveland, had lost much of their raison d’être with the loss of their employment. Their loss of population was as a direct result of the spatial dislocation between jobs and people. House prices in these districts rose least of all, just 8% in Redcar and Cleveland and 13% in Knowsley, and house price changes in the study areas were typical of the districts as a whole.

(p.84) There were also shifts in population within districts, as the economy recovered, population fell and tenure patterns shifted. As might be expected, economic recovery fuelled the housing market, enabling people to move and creating increasing divergence between prices in popular and less popular neighbourhoods. Falling populations also contributed, reducing pressure on the existing stock of housing. In general terms, it became easier for people to avoid the least popular areas and neighbourhoods, whether publicly or privately owned, council or housing association. The pattern of diverging demand was more evident in the large cities, with their greater variation in residential neighbourhoods, than it was in smaller districts. Prices in some parts of Leeds rose 40% in less than a year in 1998, while prices in other parts remained static (Leeds City Council, 1998). For the city as a whole, prices rose 20% between 1996 and 1999, whereas prices in Kirkside East rose by just 5%. In The Valley in Sheffield, prices actually fell 6% over this period, while in the city as a whole they rose by 18%. All of the local authority districts that were experiencing continued population loss began to see pockets of empty property in their least popular areas, even those in the private sector.

However, while population losses undermined housing demand generally, shifts in tenure patterns ensured that the impact was felt primarily in social housing. At the end of the 1990s, more people aspired to home ownership than at any time previously. A 1999 survey commissioned by the Institute of Public Policy Research showed that 89% of people hoped that their children or grandchildren would be homeowners in 20 years’ time (Hills, 2000). This increasing preference for home ownership, combined with falling interest rates and increasing household incomes as the economy recovered, diminished the demand for housing in the social rented sector. As long-standing older tenants died or moved into residential care, there were far fewer younger households wanting to replace them as social renters. In Sheffield, for example, the number of applicants on the council’s list nearly halved between 1991 and 1999. Whereas in 1991, an average of three people wanted every vacant property, by 1999 this had dropped to less than one (Sheffield City Council, 2001). According to the local housing manager in The Valley, people could wait a matter of weeks for a home in an area where, at the start of the decade, they might have expected to have to wait two or three years. There were more council homes than households wanting them and empty homes began to appear. This situation was replicated in most northern cities. In the North East and North West, more than a fifth of the council housing stock was categorised as ‘low demand’, compared with 10–15% in Yorkshire and the East and West Midlands, and less than 5% in the South (DETR, 1999).

Meanwhile, new private housebuilding was accelerating, encouraged in some cases by local authorities. In Knowsley, for example, the council’s strategy during the mid to late 1990s was explicitly to diversify housing choice in order to stem population losses to other boroughs. Both private developers and housing associations built new homes while council homes were standing empty. The (p.85) private rented sector also grew. Extracts from the Director of Housing’s report to councillors in 1999 explained the consequences:

… most of Overtown has limited or in some cases no demand, and this is giving serious cause for concern, with voids starting to build up in certain areas … the housing association new build has introduced new quality supply and reduced the size of the waiting list. The new build schemes have also led to an increase in expectations from some applicants. The prospect of new houses and bungalows has meant that some council stock is seen as unacceptable by comparison. This is particularly true of the elderly who in some cases are prepared to pass up the chance of moving to low-rise council flats…. The move into the private sector by some council tenants is still apparent, especially into ex-Right to Buy properties, which are often seen as more attractive than council-owned properties with central heating and fitted kitchens. Despite less security in the private sector many applicants believe they can return to the council sector with a relatively short waiting period, which in many parts of the District is of course a reality. (Knowsley Borough Council, 1999)

In Blackburn, council housing officials reported “a phenomenal number” of new private houses, with developers often offering exceptional deals, arranging 99% mortgages and throwing in carpets and curtains. People with moderate incomes could afford to buy, while renting out properties in lower-value areas. In one part of High Moor, consisting largely of Victorian terraced properties, the number of privately rented properties quadrupled between 1991 and 1998, enabling council tenants to “bounce in and out of the private sector” (local housing manager).

The 1990s: decline and divergence

Council homes in Knowsley stand empty while new private dwellings are built a quarter of a mile away

The result of this overall fall in demand for council housing was that demand in the least popular neighbourhoods, which had been weak anyway, disappeared altogether and diverging popularity quickly became self-perpetuating, as poor impressions of areas were reinforced by the appearance of shutters and environmental neglect. Housing statistics for Overtown in 1999 show some (p.86) estates with waiting lists of three to four years while others were literally emptying out, with no demand at all and empty houses appearing as existing tenants moved. In Leeds, the council’s housing strategy in 1998 reported segmentation in the housing market generally as a result of economic recovery but also increasing polarisation within the council sector:

Within social housing, patterns of use and demand have changed rapidly over recent years. A segmented market has developed between high demand areas either in outer or suburban areas or where particular housing sub-markets are evident; other areas are showing signs of either stagnation or decline and others rapidly becoming places where no-one wants to live. (Leeds City Council, 1998, p 6)

In those districts which experienced relative or absolute population loss between 1991 and 1998, the study areas suffered to some extent from this divergence of demand. Estimated population losses in the areas were greater than in the local authority as a whole, and in all cases but one, losses in the wards most closely corresponding to the study neighbourhoods were as great or greater (Figure 3.5).

By 1999, demand for homes in all the population loss neighbourhoods was low to non-existent (Table 3.6), although popularity varied between estates and between different types of stock. Estates in Borough View (Redcar and Cleveland), East Rise (Sheffield) and Saints’ Walk (Knowsley) had recently been refurbished

The 1990s: decline and divergence

Figure 3.5: Population losses (1991–98)

Sources: ONS mid-year population estimates. Oxford University population estimates for wards in England, mid-1998

(p.87)

Table 3.6: Demand for housing in population loss areas

Description of level of demand by local housing manager

Level of empty properties in neighbourhood (1999)

Saints’ Walk (Overtown, Knowsley)

Low - no waiting list

7% (worse in pockets)

Rosehill (Riverlands, Nottingham)

Low - no waiting list ”… if there was a level playing field, no one would choose Rosehill at all.”

2% (worse in pockets)

Sunnybank (Shipview, Newcastle)

”Nil.”

10% for whole area. Considerably worse in study neighbourhood

East Rise (The Valley, Sheffield)

Low - no waiting list

Houses - few Flats - 25%

Borough View (Southside, Redcar and Cleveland)

Low - small waiting list for one estate ”… hand on heart 1 can’t say there’s a demand.”

31% street housing, of which 10% in clearance area. 3% council estate

Southmead (Kirkside East, Leeds)

”… low to non-existent.” No waiting list

7% (worse in pockets)

Note: Figures usually refer to whole housing area, not just to the specific neighbourhood, as these breakdowns could not always be provided. Similar situations were described in Bridgefields and Valley Top.

Source: Interviews with housing managers (1999)

and were slightly more popular than neighbouring estates for this reason. Even so, flats were hard to let because prospective tenants could get access to larger homes instead. Sunnybank in Newcastle and Southmead in Leeds had historically bad reputations as low status, ‘rough’ areas and had not had the benefit of recent upgrading. By 1998 nearly a fifth of properties were empty. Large numbers of empty properties further fuelled the estates’ poor reputations and even demolition of selected properties failed to restore the equilibrium between demand and supply.

Population losses in unpopular neighbourhoods contributed to increasing concentrations of poverty, as people who could exercise choice left or stayed away and only those with least choice moved in. Falling numbers of people and increasing poverty had an impact on private sector services. Shops struggled in most areas, with the number of units in decline and those that were trading carrying limited stock at high prices. The lack of banks and building societies was specifically mentioned as a problem in five areas.

There was also an impact on stability and social problems. On the one hand, new arrivals to these deeply unpopular neighbourhoods tended to be less likely (p.88) to stay than existing residents who had already formed social and institutional ties, trusted friends and neighbours, voluntary work, a social life, or children at the local school. Housing managers and residents described new households who did not even unpack, or bother to get to know their neighbours. Housing managers and private landlords were under pressure to let homes and get a rental income rather than leaving them empty, at risk of crime and vandalism. In the absence of a waiting list, most lettings were to people on the homeless register. Larger flats and houses that would previously have only been available to families were let to single people, some of them at highly transient periods of their lives, for example ex-prisoners or young single unemployed men.

On the other hand, as population turnover and the concentration of vulnerable and difficult people increased, existing residents became more likely to leave. In private sector neighbourhoods, such departures often led to increases in private renting, either because householders could not sell their homes or because they were bought up at very low prices by speculators whose only interest was to secure rental returns, not to find responsible tenants who would want to stay and make a positive contribution to the neighbourhood.

Other authors have documented how this combination of empty properties and a higher proportion of vulnerable, transient or problematic individuals has a direct effect on neighbourhood conditions. People who have little commitment to the neighbourhood and who may additionally have social problems to deal with are less likely than others to take care of the communal environment, while population instability erodes the systems of support and control that encourage adherence to community norms and behaviours, and the collective efficacy of the population to organise against antisocial behaviour and lever in resources and support (Power, 1997; Power and Mumford, 1999; Sampson, 1999; Pitts, 2000). As neighbourhood conditions decline, population loss and instability increases, trapping neighbourhoods in a vicious spiral of decline (Figure 3.6). Thus, underlying population losses and housing market changes interact with very localised problems of vandalism, crime and antisocial behaviour, often with devastating consequences.

Bridgefields, the Blackburn estate described in the Introduction, fell victim to exactly this series of events, as did Borough View (Redcar and Cleveland), described at the beginning of this chapter. The same thing had happened, was happening or was beginning to happen in three of the other neighbourhoods where there were underlying population losses at area or district level.

In Saints’ Walk (Knowsley), this cycle of events had occurred in the early 1990s, and by the time we visited in 1999, conditions had been restored by a combination of housing improvements, intensive policing and community action. Similar problems were occurring on neighbouring estates. In Southmead (Leeds) and in Sunnybank (Newcastle) they were happening on a smaller scale, with empty properties confined to certain parts of the neighbourhood. Only East Rise in Sheffield, Valley Top in Caerphilly and Rosehill in Nottingham had fewer problems, although even here there were signs of difficulty. East Rise had

The 1990s: decline and divergence

Figure 3.6: The ‘lettings spiral’

Source: Adapted from Power (1996)

(p.89) a relatively popular housing stock for which demand was holding up, but estates on the other side of the road were undergoing exactly the problems described here. Valley Top had smaller pockets of problems rather than whole estates or groups of streets, and in Rosehill, severe instability and social problems affected one block, while housing demand in the area and city as a whole was sufficient to bolster the rest of the estate from similar problems.

As a result of these processes of decline, neighbourhood conditions were generally much worse in areas with high levels of empty property than they were in other areas. Table 3.7 shows problems with neighbourhood conditions first in population loss areas and then in areas of population gain.

The overall picture was that, in all the northern cities and outlying industrial areas, underlying trends of depopulation were deepening poverty concentrations in the least popular areas and neighbourhoods and, in some cases, literally beginning to empty them out. While not all had reached the point of collapse, all were caught in a cycle of deepening unpopularity that showed no sign of alleviating.

Population growth and ethnic concentration

A very different picture emerged from the other four areas. Although still regarded as low status relative to others (Table 3.8), their populations were growing, reversing the trend of the 1970s and 1980s. Each has a different story.

Both of the inner London areas were undergoing rapid change, of two kinds. The first was the arrival of new ethnic communities, and growth of those which (p.90)

Table 3.7: Problems with neighbourhood conditions (1999)

Derelict/boarded-up houses or shops

Dumped household items/rubbish

Extensive litter

Poorly maintained common areas, kerbs, verges and fences

Extensive graffiti

Extensive vandalism

Total

Population loss areas

Rosehill (Riverlands)

2

East Rise (The Valley)

1

Saints’ Walk (Overtown)

1

Sunnybank (Shipview)

1

Southmead (Kirkside East)

6

Borough View (Southside)

6

Bridgefields (High Moor)

6

Valley Top (Fairfields)

3

Population gain areas

The Grove (West-City)

0

Phoenix Rise (East-Docks)

1

Broadways (Middle Row)

2

Sandyton (Beachville)

1

Source: Observation and interviews with residents and frontline staff

(p.91)

Table 3.8: Population gains (1971–98)

1971–91a (%)

Change 199l-98b (%)

Birth/death ratio 1998

West-City (Hackney)

-35

+3.4

1.47

East-Docks (Newham)

-10

+6

2.10

Middle Row (Birmingham)

+2

+8.8

3.24

Beachville (Thanet)

+3.3

0.83

England and Wales

+4

+3

1.15

Notes: a 1971–91 change calculated using Census data (population present on Census night). Blanks indicate areas where boundary changes make comparison impossible for this period.

b 1991 -98 data calculated using mid-year population estimates. 1998 data were taken directly from estimates produced for use with IMD. These are not directly comparable with Census data. However, there are no mid-year estimates at ward level for 1991. These were calculated by attributing 1991 Census ward population shares to 1991 mid-year estimates for districts.

Sources: 1971 and 1991 Census data. ONS mid-year estimates. University of Oxford ward-level population estimates calculated for use with IMD.

had settled in the 1970s and 1980s, and the second was the arrival of new higher-income residents, and a rise in property prices. Changes in West-City were described at the beginning of this chapter. East-Docks had been less ethnically mixed in 1991 and retained a larger indigenous community at the end of the decade. Nevertheless, it changed rapidly. A total of 39% of pupils at the local primary and secondary schools in 1999 were from minority ethnic backgrounds, compared with 24% of under-17s just eight years earlier. Similarly, property prices were much lower (an average of £84,000 in 1999) but had also, as in West-City, shot up (by 95% since 1996), as the extension of the Jubilee Line suddenly made for easy access to Docklands and Central London.

Middle Row in Birmingham was also experiencing a growth in its minority ethnic population. It already had a majority of minority ethnic residents in 1991 (66%), although compared with West-City and East-Docks it was more culturally homogenous, with the majority of households being Muslim families from Pakistan and, increasingly, Bangladesh. These communities were growing steadily through secondary immigration (family and spouses coming to join British citizens) and through natural increase. The birth/death ratio in the area was three times the national average in 1998. Smaller minority ethnic communities, particularly from Yemen and Somalia, were also establishing themselves, but were very much outnumbered. In 1999, 95% of pupils at Broadways’ local primary school and 97% of pupils at the local secondary school were from a minority ethnic group, with 85% being Pakistani or Bangladeshi.

Beachville was a different case again. Since the 1970s, it had been experiencing population growth, largely in middle-aged and older age groups as people moved by choice to enjoy the seaside environment (Beatty and Fothergill, 2003a). In parts, it also experienced change of a different kind. Formerly a predominantly (p.92) white community, it underwent dramatic ethnic change in the 1990s, but only in certain pockets, because its proximity to ports of entry to Britain and the availability of B&B accommodation made it a magnet for asylum seekers. The first arrivals, in the mid-1990s, were from East Africa, but from 1997 there were two main groups: Central and Eastern Europeans (Czechs, Slovaks and Kosovans) and Africans from Somalia, Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo, among others. Official estimates suggested that there were about 300 refugee families in the town in 1999, but actual numbers were impossible to gauge. Support organisations suggested that there might be as many as 3,000.

Thus, although the populations of these areas were growing, much of their growth was accounted for by a growth in the numbers of people from some of the most disadvantaged groups in British society. There were two distinct phenomena. One was the growth in Pakistani/Bangladeshi populations to the extent where the neighbourhood became almost exclusively populated by people of that origin, an extremely disadvantaged population. Research by Birmingham City Council showed that 53% of the city’s economically active Pakistani population had no qualifications, double the proportion of that of White, African, Caribbean or Indian ethnic groups. The unemployment rate for the city’s Pakistani and Bangladeshi population was four times as high as for the population of white people. For those in work, low pay was more likely to be a problem. A total of 51% of Pakistani/Bangladeshi employees in the West Midlands earned less than £4.60 an hour in 1999 (the minimum wage), compared with 28% overall, and 28% of Pakistani/Bangladeshi workers earned less than the minimum wage (Birmingham City Council, 2001). These enormous discrepancies meant that areas such as Middle Row with increasing Pakistani and Bangladeshi populations, would inevitably have increasing concentrations of poverty.

The second phenomenon, in the other areas, was the growth in populations from diverse immigrant groups, recently arrived in the country, many of them refugees from war-torn countries. The prospects of these immigrants may be good, just as they were, on the whole, for Ugandan Asians who settled in Britain in the 1970s (Peach, 1996a). A number of respondents remarked on the determination and upward mobility of individuals in some of these immigrant groups, particularly Somalis, many of whom were professional or business people in their home country. Nevertheless, current disadvantage was evident in the high levels of Free School Meal eligibility in local schools (about 65% in each of the secondary schools compared with a national average of 18%) and the fact that they were able to access social housing, allocated on a needs basis. Professionals working with immigrant families reported difficulties such as lack of English fluency, low basic skills, poor health, low life expectancy and high infant mortality. Other research has demonstrated that progress may well be inhibited by ‘structural racism’. Daley (1998), for example, has demonstrated how the qualifications of black Africans are devalued in British society, forcing them to take lower-paid jobs than they are capable of.

In sharp contrast to the swathes of empty housing in the population loss areas, (p.93)

Table 3.9: Empty properties and housing demand: study neighbourhoods in population gain areas (1999)

Description of level of demand by local housing manager

Level of empty properties in neighbourhood (1999)

The Grove (West-City, Hackney)

Good

3%

Phoenix Rise (East-Docks, Newham)

Lowest waiting list in borough but always possible to let properties

2%

Broadways (Middle Row, Birmingham)

High - long waiting lists

〈2%

Sandyton (Beachville, Thanet)

N/A - mainly B&B accommodation

Source: Interviews with housing managers (1999)

the population growth areas experienced pressure on their housing stock. In 1999, the study neighbourhoods in these areas had very few empty properties and hardly any that were vacant long term (Table 3.9). None of them had the severe environmental conditions caused by low demand in some of the northern neighbourhoods. The inner London neighbourhoods, predominantly made up of council flats and houses, were still regarded as relatively unpopular, but demand was such that it was always possible to find tenants. Middle Row, although regarded as a low-status neighbourhood in the city generally, was popular among the Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities, and there were long waiting lists for housing association properties. A cultural preference for large families meant that it was not unusual for families to have four or more children. In 1991, 25% of households with children in that area had four or more, and extended family households were also more common than average. With high pressure on housing in the area, newly forming households could not necessarily move out, nor large households move to bigger accommodation, so many families were living in overcrowded conditions.

Thus, both where population was declining and where it was increasing, these broad population movements tended to result in growing proportions of people from society’s most disadvantaged groups within the least popular areas and neighbourhoods.

Home to the most marginalised and vulnerable

The increasing sorting of residential neighbourhoods reinforced another pressure on the poorest areas: their function as housing providers for society’s most marginalised and most vulnerable members.

The disadvantaged inner-city areas in the study had, for many years, disproportionate levels of specialist accommodation for homeless people or people (p.94) with mental health problems. Their central location made them accessible to city centre service provision and easy to reach by public transport, and they often had a supply of large old houses or industrial buildings suitable for conversion to communal living. A number of respondents also argued that hostels and residential or care homes could more easily be located in poor areas, with less resistance from organised groups of ‘not in my back yard’ campaigners. Riverlands, Nottingham, had nearly two thirds of the city’s homeless hostel beds, and a bail hostel (about 350 hostel places in total), compared with only 10% of the city’s population. Specialist mental health accommodation was also disproportionately concentrated here, but amounted to only about 30 bedspaces. Health professionals estimated that about 50% of people in the city diagnosed with schizophrenia lived in this one part of Riverlands where hostel accommodation was concentrated. The Valley had a quarter of the direct access hostel beds in Sheffield, but only 4% of the city’s population.

Moreover, all the areas, because of their unpopularity, tended to have flats or houses available for people rehoused from the homeless register, recently released from prison or evicted from elsewhere because of their antisocial behaviour. The perception that the areas were ‘a dumping ground’ for people who found it hard to cope or who made life difficult for others was sharpened during the 1990s as neighbourhoods became more polarised and fewer homes were allocated to people with greater housing choice. Even a very small number of such individuals could create an impression of chaos and disorder. In West-City, a resident activist explained that:

“… civil servants and politicians need to understand why living in an area like this makes people angry or frustrated or demoralised. Some of the people I live near are pitiful; they don’t know how to clean their own flat; they dump rubbish in the stairwell; you can hear them shouting and screaming and climbing the walls all night. It’s not their fault they’re like that, but they haven’t got the support they need and it’s other residents who are left to deal with it.”

On housing estates, vulnerable or problematic tenants tended to be dispersed throughout a neighbourhood. Blocks of single person’s accommodation had a concentrating effect. Rosehill estate in Nottingham had one block of 130 small flats, including 55 bedsits, about half of the council’s bedsit accommodation in the entire city. Because of the size of the accommodation, tenants were mainly single people. Most respondents in the area alluded to a high proportion of problematic drug users, ex-offenders, and people with mental health problems. As one respondent put it: “It’s a bit of a dumping ground for people that can’t get anywhere else. No one with any roots in the area would live there” (police officer). Turnover was reported to be extremely high. In Beachville in Thanet, social services and housing staff described how many of those released from prison or on the paedophile register in the area ended up in one high-rise block (p.95) of 89 one-bedroom flats, which also contained people with severe mental health problems and drug and alcohol abusers. The housing department in Shipview (Newcastle) was considering the demolition of 10 clustered blocks of one-bedroom flats which had experienced similar problems, and similar blocks had recently been demolished in Overtown (Knowsley) and Fairfields (Caerphilly). In The Valley (Sheffield), tenancies in some blocks of flats typically lasted no more than three to six months because of the transient nature of the inhabitants. Other residents complained of antisocial behaviour: dumping of old furniture, rubbish and nappies thrown out of windows, and loud music and fireworks late at night.

Some of these blocks had been earmarked for demolition while others had been converted into bigger properties, for couples and families, or let as furnished accommodation. In Kirkside East (Leeds), the housing department had stopped letting properties to people aged under 25 in a block beset by antisocial behaviour, and drug and alcohol abuse. At the sharp end, the funnelling of society’s most vulnerable, marginalised and problematic individuals into its least advantaged neighbourhoods was creating difficult living environments and management problems.

Continuing trends, new developments and diverging fortunes

The story of the 1990s, then, was essentially one of continuity with the trends of the 1970s and 1980s. Population continued to be lost from cities and from industrial areas, reducing the demand for housing and enabling greater polarisation between popular and unpopular neighbourhoods. Tenure preferences continued to shift. While new houses were built to satisfy demand for home ownership, demand for social housing fell further. Problems that had been emerging in the 1980s became more widespread in the 1990s, with more neighbourhoods acutely affected by empty homes and abandonment. While the huge job losses of the 1970s and 1980s were not replicated, the decline of manufacturing continued, causing most of the study areas to be no better off in terms of numbers of jobs at the end of the decade than they were at the beginning. Moreover, where there was job growth, it tended to be disproportionately in part-time work and in the service sector, which offered low-skilled and low-paid job opportunities. In all sectors, job security and wages continued to diverge.

These continuities are unsurprising. Decline was embedded in the areas through their long-term association with declining sectors of the economy and, correspondingly, with the low levels of skills and attainment in their workforces. Unpopular areas with very high proportions of social housing were trapped in a cycle of decline once demand for that tenure started to dwindle, fuelled by public policy. The fortunes of the areas were determined by these intrinsic or hard-to-change characteristics: location, economic structure and housing. Economic changes depressed the incomes and opportunities of current residents and, along with location and housing, gave shape to the process of residential (p.96) sorting, determining that more advantaged residents would leave and be replaced only by those with little choice. Where the trajectories of the areas did diverge in the 1990s, it was because they were geographically well-positioned to take advantage of economic change and because their housing stock or transport infrastructure enabled them to do so. West-City began to attract jobs because of its proximity to the City, and to higher-income residents because of the attractiveness of some of its housing stock. High Moor in Blackburn saw job growth because of its proximity to a new motorway and the same thing was happening in East-Docks at the end of the decade following the extension of the Jubilee Line. To reverse the decline of previous decades, areas needed to have particular local advantages and/or be situated in bigger cities or regions that were themselves doing relatively well. In the majority of cases, neither of these pertained. With the exception of inner London, the spatial distribution of growth and decline in the 1990s mapped closely onto the existing pattern of wealth and poverty, so that poor areas continued to do relatively badly and better-off areas to do relatively well.

Moreover, the ethnic changes of the 1990s introduced a new dimension that threatened to reinforce the divisions between inner-city areas and others. Two important changes were underway. First, the arrival in significant numbers of displaced refugees from around the world meant that even in the London areas where higher-income residents were beginning to arrive, social housing was increasingly populated by people facing extreme disadvantage, at least in the short term. Second, areas that had large Pakistani/Bangladeshi populations in 1991 tended to become even more ethnically homogenous, through natural increase and immigration. People from these ethnic groups continued to be highly disadvantaged in many ways: in the labour market, income levels, housing and health. Their continuing spatial concentration reinforced the spatial divisions in wealth and poverty between neighbourhoods.

The causes of decline continued, therefore, to be structural, originating in the organisation of the economy and of society. The problems of the poorest neighbourhoods were the creation of wider societal changes, economic restructuring, rising inequality in income and wealth, population redistribution, housing markets and housing policies, the fragmentation of social institutions and the growth and concentration of disadvantaged immigrant groups. But both at national and local level, public policy decisions, such as those on housing policy or allocations or economic development, made a difference. And as neighbourhoods declined, it also mattered how quickly and how effectively local services could respond to the needs of their highly disadvantaged populations. Low levels of individual and household resources meant that public services had a disproportionate importance. Few people can afford to buy private healthcare, to send their children to private schools or nurseries or to protect themselves from crime by buying expensive security devices. Low rates of car ownership (between 31% and 57% of households in the 12 areas, compared with 68% nationally) rendered people more reliant on neighbourhood amenities and made (p.97) public transport particularly vital for work, shopping and socialising. Many residents (over 50% on average in the 12 areas) relied on publicly provided housing and estate management. To check their decline, disadvantaged neighbourhoods needed good local services and effective local management as well as strategic policy interventions.

Summary

  • The 1990s was a period of economic growth, but it was an uneven growth. As manufacturing declined, most urban and industrial areas had overall job losses, despite service sector growth. Seven of the 12 areas were net losers of jobs between 1991 and 1998. Three others gained jobs but less quickly than the national average (see Box 3.1).

  • Whether areas did well or badly in terms of job growth depended on the strength of the regional economy but also on their industrial structure and their specific locational or infrastructure characteristics – proximity to motorways and quality of business premises. The intrinsic features of some areas fitted better with the changing economy than others.

  • Continuing the trend of the 1980s, the 1990s saw a further loss of male full-time jobs, and a shift from full-time to part-time jobs. Many of the new jobs in the 12 areas were in part-time or low-paid work. Unemployment fell in all the areas, but there was also evidence of rising economic activity as formal labour market opportunities became more unattractive. Falling unemployment masked continuing labour market exclusion. Economic change brought wider earnings inequality and greater uncertainty.

  • Meanwhile, most of the cities and industrial areas continued to lose population (Box 3.2), enabling greater residential choice and greater polarisation in the housing market. Polarisation was accelerated by falling demand for social housing, as preferences for private ownership increased, and new homes were built. By 1999, demand for council housing in the areas that were losing population was low to non-existent. Most of the lettings were to homeless (p.98) people or others in very high need. Poverty concentrations and social problems increased. Certain blocks of flats and bedsits attracted intense concentrations of vulnerable and marginalised residents: people with mental health problems, ex-prisoners and problematic drug and alcohol users. The number of empty homes increased and neighbourhood conditions worsened.

  • Four areas saw population growth (Box 3.2). Three were inner-city areas and one was a coastal town (Beachville). Population growth was mainly due to the growth of minority ethnic groups, either through natural increase, secondary immigration to join British citizens, or new primary immigration and asylum seekers. Many people from minority ethnic groups continued to be among the most disadvantaged in British society. Poverty concentrations were reinforced as new disadvantaged households arrived to replace those who were moving on and up. At the same time, all of the three inner-city areas were beginning to show signs of gentrification, enhancing the sense of polarisation within the areas.

  • These uneven patterns of development meant that the fortunes of the areas started to diverge as they continued to be driven by the wider forces of the economic change, population movements and housing demand.

Notes

(1) This group (those looking for work but not claiming) is included in the International Labour Organization (ILO) definition of unemployment, which is recognised as being more reliable than official figures but is not published at ward level.

(2) For two areas, comparison of the population between 1991 and 1998 is not possible: High Moor because of boundary changes and Fairfields because of a lack of ward-level population estimates for 1998 in Wales. Qualitative data suggests that the population was declining in Fairfields. The direction of change could not be established in High Moor.