The other week, we received very depressing news. The most recent Welsh Index of Multiple Deprivation showed that the St James Ward of Caerphilly contained the second poorest sub-ward in Wales – Lansbury Park.
This report needs to be taken seriously, not least because the Index uses a range of indicators to identify relative poverty – income, unemployment, health, education, housing, physical environment, and community safety.
The reasons why Lansbury Park is such a poor area are complex and far from straight-forward. However, it is safe to argue that as the economic down-turn became sharper, so those who were already finding it difficult to make ends meet found things more and more difficult. This tends to reinforce what is happening throughout the UK. That is the poorer are getting poorer, while the super rich are becoming even more prosperous.
The surest way to improve the wealth of individuals is to improve their employment prospects. One of the myths all too often heard is that ‘people get rich on benefits’. The truth is that people who are in work are almost always better off than those who are not, and the first phase of the economic downturn hit manufacturing hard and, in an area like Caerphilly, manufacturing is still important.
Looking to the future, we are likely to see the public sector coming under increasing strain. Central Government cuts are working their way down to the Welsh Assembly and from there to local government. Central government agencies, like the Tax and Social Security Offices are also in the process of making deep cuts.
How are things to be changed? Obviously, the policies of central government are critical. Despite devolution, the quality of people’s lives is largely determined by macro-economic factors which are controlled by London. It follows that the Tory-led Government must change its policies or, better still, the Government itself must be changed.
Clearly, the Welsh Government has an important role in doing its utmost to mitigate the effect of any reduction of its block grant from Westminster. But crucially Caerphilly County Borough Council has a vital role to play in addressing issues at a local level. Rather than harping on about how it is not increasing the Council Tax, it would be far better if the Council came forward with some policies about how to tackle poverty in Lansbury Park.
Labour MP for Caerphilly