How the destruction of industrial Britain casts a shadow over present-day public finances

A new report by Christina Beatty and Steve Fothergill, Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research, Sheffield Hallam University

  • UK manufacturing employment has fallen from 8.9 million to just 2.9 million overthe last fifty years, and 500,000 jobs have disappeared from the coal industry. This has destroyed the economic base of many communities, especially in the North,Scotland and Wales.
  • The main effect ofthis job loss has been to divert vast numbers of men and women out ofthe labour market onto incapacity related benefits, these days Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) which accounts for almost 2.5 million adults of workingage. The highest claimant rates – 10per cent or more of all 16-64 year olds – are nearly all in older industrial areas.
  • ESA and the additional benefits received by ESAclaimants – Housing Benefit and Disability LivingAllowance for example – are a £30bn-plus annual claim on the Exchequer.
  • Low pay in former industrial areas depresses tax revenue and inflates spending on in-work benefits. Spending on Tax Credits, for example, exceeds £850 a year per adult of working age in much of older industrial Britain – double the level in parts of southernEngland.
  • The Treasury has misdiagnosed high welfare spending as the result of inadequate work incentives and has too often blamed individuals for their own predicament, whereas in fact a large part ofthe bill is rooted in job destruction extending back decades.
  • The welfare reforms implemented since 2010, and strengthened since the 2015 general election, hitthe poorest places hardest. In effect, communities in older industrial Britain are being meted out punishmentin the form of welfare cuts forthe destruction wrought to their industrial base.
  • Across most of older industrial Britain the loss arising from welfare reform is expected to exceed £750 a year per working age adult by 2020-21.
  • There is an alternative – a genuine rebalancing ofthe economy in favour of industrial production and a revival of regional economic policy.
  • Policy makers need to take a long-term perspective, look at the differences between places, and stop thinking in silos.

Jobs, Welfare and Austerity