How the constrains of environment need to be reflected in reports on inequality
At present there is little understanding of how the environment contributes to the economy. Government agencies, if they have regular information to assess the health of the environment, then it’s not reflected as a holistic element in the adequacy of policies to stop environmental decline, or reflect the economic impacts of environmental degradation.
This lack of information leads to a lack of insight too for areas of policy, both for government and those seeking to hold government to account. This can be seen in the recent reports on equality and poverty in the UK. Environmental exposures disproportionately affect the poor.
By widening the scope of our vision and increasing the strength and breadth of the evidence base about how poverty and environment together affect health, we can better participate in efforts to promote social justice and responsible use and protection of the environment, and thus reduce health inequities.
‘14 million people, a fifth of the population, live in poverty. Four million of these are more than 50% below the poverty line,1 and 1.5 million are destitute, unable to afford basic essentials.
But the full picture of low-income well-being in the UK cannot be captured by statistics alone.’
Statement on Visit to the United Kingdom, by Professor Philip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights London, 16 November 2018.
To better understand this argument we can look locally.
Poverty In Burnley
Despite the recent efforts to paint an upbeat picture of Burnley as an up and coming area, the levels of poverty in the town are stark.
Burnley ranked 9 in the 2015 IMD The most deprived local authority districts according to the Index of Multiple Deprivation 2015 and the 2010 Index: local authorities are ranked on the proportion of neighbourhoods in the most deprived 10 per cent nationally
The indices of multiple deprivation combine information relating to eight ‘domains’ (income, employment, education, health, skills and training, barriers to housing and services and crime) into an overall measure of deprivation.
The median earnings of residents are below the national average, £23,700 in Burnley. This is equivalent to 81% of the national average (£29,100).
The main reasons for economic inactivity in Burnley are the same as across Lancashire and nationally, with 32% acting as carers, 27% long term sick and 16% studying; the area has a much lower share studying and a much higher share looking after family and home than in Lancashire and nationally.
Burnley has high levels of fuel poverty with 15.4% of households in the district required to spend more than 10% of their income on fuel—ranking Burnley within the worst 5% of districts nationally.
Burnley has the second worst level of child poverty in Lancashire with 28% of children living in income deprived households – considerably above the national average of 20%.
Burnley has high levels of illness and disability, which restricts a significant proportion of people from accessing work and other opportunities. There is 25% greater incidence of life limiting illness in Burnley than the national average. The 2001 Census showed that 19,770 people (22% of the population) in Burnley declared themselves as having a limiting long-term illness compared to the national average of 18% in England.
Skills and Training
Burnley and Pendle residents are less qualified (at NVQ4 or above) at all age groups than across Lancashire as a whole. Those aged 40-49 are most highly qualified, which is similar to the picture across Lancashire and nationally, for which the 40-49 and 30-39 age groups are most qualified.
- The employment rate for males (88%) greatly exceeds the rate for females (73%).
- 29.3% of residents in Burnley hold no qualifications whatsoever.
The three largest areas of recorded crime by the Police in Daneshouse with Stoneyholme are:
- Anti-social behaviour 28.7%
- Violence and sexual offences 25.7%
- Criminal damage and Arson 10.5%
Barriers that people face are not equal. ‘Is Britain Fairer’, Equality Human Rights Commission, 2018 showed that
- 3 in 10 children are living in poverty, and more than half of all children from Black African, Pakistani and Bangladeshi households are living in poverty
- disabled people are nearly three times more likely to experience severe material deprivation than non-disabled people
- The average age of people in Daneshouse with Stoneyholme is 29, while the median age is lower at 26.
- 62.7% of people living in Daneshouse with Stoneyholme were born in England. Other top answers for country of birth were 20.2% Pakistan, 11.1% Bangladesh, 0.5% Scotland, 0.4% India, 0.3% Hong Kong , 0.2% North Africa, 0.2% Ireland, 0.2% Sri Lanka, 0.2% Iran.
- 59.5% of people living in Daneshouse with Stoneyholme speak English.
The area of Burnley where our main offices are is called Daneshouse with Stoneyholme. It consists of high density stone terraces, largely built in the 1890’s, principally for people working in the cotton mills. (The population density is 8.1 persons per hectare – the England and Wales average is 3.4). The houses have no gardens, and are expensive to heat, having inherent problems with low energy efficiency.
Whilst circa 89% of homes in the UK have gardens, less than 2% of the homes in Daneshouse and Stoneyholme do. Not long after they were built the residents complained about the lack of available green spaces in the estate. It was rectified, to an extent, by the provision of a public park, though this didn’t last long as within a decade it was built with further terraced houses.
It may seem that Burnley is surrounded by the beautiful countryside of the Pennines, yet ‘levels of access to Local Nature Reserves are lower than recommended – Natural England recommends 1 hectare of LNR per 1,000 population. On that basis Burnley should have 90 hectares of designated Local Nature Reserves; however the total area of the two in Burnley is 12.3ha. The borough therefore has a current shortfall of 77.7 hectares (LWT 2008).’ If people can access these then they may still find that the ‘Designated habitats of national and international importance are in unfavourable condition.’
When poverty is seen within context of land, it paints a different picture. Though it’s clear from the median earnings figures that the economy of Burnley restricts and restrains people in poverty, or channels them into poverty. It’s clear too that a large number of carers and long term sick are not getting the financial support that they need.
We might realise the benefits system should be loosening the constraints of such poverty. People who have little tend to spend all of their resources in the local economy, which would bring benefits to us all. Without understanding access to land though, our view of poverty is constrained.
Here at Pennine Lancashire Community Farm our mission is to use outdoor space to bring people together. We have a lease from the council of land that was formerly derelict; a mixture of former garages, and abandoned tarmacadam playground, and waste ground. It took several years to clear.
Now it provides small plots of growing space for many of the people in the local vicinity, that they can rent for £2.00 per year. The demand for space is always high, and we can only supply 150 plots. To do this we have relied upon over 20,600 hours of voluntary input this year.
As the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: We all have the right to affordable housing, medicine, education, and childcare, enough money to live on and medical help if we are ill or old. We all have the right to a good life. Mothers and children, people who are old, unemployed or disabled, and all people have the right to be cared for. We have a duty to other people, and we should protect their rights and freedoms.
We should all have a right to decent living conditions too, with access to green spaces, to bring people together. It’s good for people’s health, well-being and economy, it’s vital for our long term survival.
NB The statistics on poverty have been selected and collated from lancs vital signs and other sources.