The idea that communities like South Kirkby and Moorthorpe, across Yorkshire, are close-knit, proud and determined to emerge from the shadow of the closure of heavy industry is one that is, in many ways, a stereotype that emerged from the Miners’ Strike and that togetherness and determination was forged through that bitter struggle. I, for one, am proud that communities such as ours have traditionally, in the past few decades, found such resilience and have come together to ‘get the job done’ but sooner, rather than later, we all need to question why so many decades following the loss of our heavy industries this is still the case. Sooner, rather than later, we need to question why (in many Yorkshire communities and certainly in my community of South Kirkby and Moorthorpe) we have had continuous Labour led local councils, Labour led district councils and often a Labour Member of Parliament yet (even despite the Labour Government of 1994 to 2010) our communities are still stuck in a timewarp.
My own community is part of the Hemsworth constituency, arguably the safest seat in the entire United Kingdom yet is still struggling to find a way out of the terminal decline that took hold decades ago. The Index of Multiple Deprivation figures released via the Local Government Association show that parts of South Kirkby and Moorthorpe are among the most deprived areas in the United Kingdom, yet pay the highest council tax bill in the entire Wakefield district, with a band A property being taxed £1,190.85 per annum. In comparison residents in band A properties in the city of Wakefield (where most services are) pay just £986.59 and residents in the other hubs of Pontefract (£986.59) and Castleford (£986.59) equally have much better access to services and amenities yet pay vastly less in taxes.
2011 census records show that parts of South Kirkby and Moorthorpe have estates where less than 40% of the inhabitants are in full time employment, and less than 15% working part time. In fact, Claimant Count figures show that Moorthorpe and the Northfield estate area particularly have a higher number of unemployment related benefits claimants than the rest of the area, on average. The 2011 census showed that in parts of our area there are pockets of the community where 40% to 50% of the population have no qualifications, with Stockingate, Hilltop Estate, Park Estate and South Kirkby Common estates all showing this trend. Indeed the same records show that there are parts of our area where people with level 4 or above qualifications is just 5% to 10% of the population. This lack of social mobility is arguably linked to health, with between 15% and 20% of people in South Kirkby and Moorthorpe (on average) stating in the 2011 census that their normal day-to-day activities are severely impeded by poor health. So why is this the case? The 2011 census showed that at the time that these figures were obtained the average age of residents was just 39 years old and that the number of residents under 16 years of age was over 20%, higher than the national average.
In 2016 an IPPR North think tank study, published with Teach First, found that, on average, northern secondary schools received over £1,300 less per pupil than their London equivalent. The same study showed that primary schools in Yorkshire suffer a £900 per pupil gap to their London counterparts. At the time of releasing the figures IPPR North called upon the Government to address this via a ‘Powerhouse premium’ as part of the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ project. The study also found that the turn around in London academic achievement since the ‘London Challenge’ has driven the number of pupils in the capital with five GCSE A to C grades to over 60%, compared with the 40% to 50% of South Kirkby and Moorthorpe residents with no qualifications this figure is brought sharply into focus. It can be argued that a premium investment is made into London due to higher living costs but the IPPR North study found this to be not the case, in fact it found that northern schools should receive compensation for having a harder job than those in London.
So, this week when i heard that some schools in the Hemsworth constituency and in my own community have called on parents and carers to abstain from sending Christmas cards and instead to give that money to the school i was dismayed. We simply cannot keep up this mask of strength and togetherness that we adopted decades ago, it is time that we shouted, loud and proud that our children deserve better. Our schools are at the heart of our communities but they are not to be propped up by local residents who have grown resilient to decades of under investment. We need to start asking why our often Labour led district and local councils and our elected Labour Members of Parliament have allowed decades of decline to continue, regardless of the national Government being Conservative or Labour led. The cold hard facts speak for themselves, sometimes it hurts to admit that Labour are failing us but in truth they no longer deserve to count on our support when they have failed our children so very badly. Admitting this to be the case and realising that this does not make you a Tory by default is a step towards a brighter future for our children and their children. If they have to work to earn our votes then they damn well need to address the injustice of education funding in our area, for starters.
As part of it’s 2017 General Election manifesto the Yorkshire Party spoke up about this north/south divide in education funding and hopefully the information i have provided here shows how that affects our local community. The Yorkshire Party also proposed that Yorkshire has a ‘Yorkshire Challenge’ similar to the one introduced with such excellent effect in London and in line with the IPPR North study. I back this call. Of course, devolution of powers from Westminster to Yorkshire would help us achieve better control over such matters but even without such devolved powers it is up to our elected councillors and Members of Parliament to put pressure on the Government to address the issue. I call on my own Member of Parliament, Jon Trickett, to back my call for a ‘Yorkshire Challenge’.
As a final thought, i just wanted to add my sincere thanks to the many teachers, assistants, governors and support staff of all types and grades who keep our schools running despite the under investment. We are lucky to have some superb teachers in our area and i will always support them through their struggles to get the pay they deserve for what is often a thankless task. You are all heroes.