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Being beside the seaside is not as jolly as the music hall song implies: those living in England’s top beach resorts suffer above-average deprivation, an official study has found.
Analysis by the Office for National Statistics shows places that once thrived on tourism are suffering in terms of health and disability, employment and income compared to the rest of the country.
Skegness, home of the first Butlins holiday camp, had the highest level of deprivation out of a total of 57 large and medium-sized seaside towns in 2010.
Blackpool, whose Golden Mile and tower still attract more visitors a year than any other UK coastal town, had the second highest level of deprivation – and the highest for those with populations of more than 40,000.
Clacton-on-Sea in Essex came third overall.
The study was conducted to test the notion that resorts had declined owing to the package holiday boom in which British holidaymakers opted for warmer climes.
“There is a perception that these economies have declined and are enduring high levels of deprivation as a result of people going on holiday abroad rather than in England,” said the report. “The perceived extent of their decline is so great that during the 2010 election campaign, all three major political parties discussed the problems facing British seaside settlements.”
Larger seaside towns generally had greater levels of their population in the most deprived group than average in 2010 – 26.9% compared with a national average of 20%. Twenty-five of the 31 larger seaside towns had higher than average deprivation. The exceptions were Christchurch and Poole, Dorset; Lytham St Annes, Lancashire; Southport, Merseyside; and Worthing and Bognor Regis in West Sussex.
The main areas of deprivation were in health and disability (34.9% of population in most deprived group), employment (32.2%), living environment (26.7%), income (25.3%) and education, skills and training (25%). Crime deprivation was 16.6%, while barrier to housing and services was 10.6%.
Seaside towns attract retired people, but the statistics did not bear this out as a factor, said Phil Humby, the report’s author: “Whilst health shows the most deprivation overall in seaside destinations, it is not necessarily due to an elderly population because there will be places like Lytham St Annes, Poole and Christchurch, where they have older populations but they have relatively low levels of health deprivation and disability.”
He said the study was the start of a continuing analysis of what was happening in such communities and that there did not appear to be one common reason why some towns were more deprived, although loss of tourism and possibly fishing were relevant for some.
“Obviously when you have a decline in one industry you need to have something else to come in and fill it and that hasn’t happened in some of them.”
Ken Milner, 62, a Tory councillor in Skegness for 15 years and a retired hotelier, said he was surprised by the study’s findings: “We are a seasonal town and wages aren’t good. It’s minimum wage or just above. But that’s like a lot of places.
“We do get a lot of people retiring here with health issues and disabilities because the air is so good. So they come from Nottingham and Sheffield, and a lot of them live in the caravans for 10 months of the year instead of renting in the cities.
“Also people come for the seasonal work then they stay in the winter. Money is very tight and a lot are on benefits throughout the winter. But I am still very surprised we are at the top of this table.
“They’ll probably be sending us food parcels next, though that might be good in a way. We’ve got all the big shops, Morrisons, Tesco, McDonald’s. Burger King’s just moved in. So you think to yourself, if they are coming, we can’t be doing too bad. Then this hits you straight between the eyes.”
A Treasury spokeswoman said: “These 2010 statistics show that, under the last administration, too many seaside towns and villages suffered from economic decline and neglect.
“There is huge potential for our coastal towns to welcome new industries and to diversify their economies so they can become year-round success stories.
“The government’s coastal communities fund was set up in 2011 to help these towns tap into new business opportunities that will create jobs and boost skills that benefit the whole community.
“The projects this fund supports expect to support around 5,000 jobs, and more than 300 new business startups and create over 1,400 training places in the next few years. Details of next year’s fund will be announced shortly.”
These were the most deprived of the English seaside destinations in 2010
1 Skegness and Ingoldmells, Lincolnshire
2 Blackpool, Lancashire
3 Clacton, Essex
4 Hastings, East Sussex
5 Ramsgate, Kent
6 Seaham, County Durham
7 Margate, Kent
8 Hartlepool, County Durham
9 Great Yarmouth, Norfolk
10 South Shields, County Durham
From boom towns to bust towns
Skegness The Lincolnshire North Sea resort saw the first Butlin’s holiday camp open there in 1936. Originally a fishing village, the railway brought the first mass visitors in 1875. In 1908 the Great Northern Railway promoted excursions from London’s Kings Cross, commissioning posters saying “Skegness is so Bracing”, referencing its prevailing chilly north-easterlies. Holidaymakers came mainly from the industrial East Midlands.
Blackpool A fashionable spot in the mid-18th century for the well heeled to bathe in the sea as part of “taking the cure”, a private road built in 1781 saw stage coaches running regularly from Manchester. In the 1840s, the railway connected it to industrialised regions of the north and by 1881 it was a booming resort. The first municipality to have electric street lighting (in 1879), its Illuminations, promenade, piers and Pleasure Beach still draw millions annually. It was hit by the decline in the textile industry with its traditional week-long break. Then followed rise of the package holiday.
Clacton-on-Sea Founded as a tourist resort in 1871, the Essex town became popular with Londoners when the London Road was built in the 1920s. It was the site of the enterprising Billy Butlin’s second holiday camp, which opened in 1938 but due to the package holiday industry, closed in 1983. Among its many claims to fame it was the scene of a 1964 fight between the mods and the rockers.