Jobs and health key to tackling inequality
As figures reveal that Telford households have on average £3,000 less in disposable income than Shropshire homes every year, the town's politicians have said that skilled jobs and better health services are key to increasing people's prosperity.
Office for National Statistics figures show that people in Telford & Wrekin households had £15,937 left over after tax in 2017 – down 0.7 per cent from the previous year.
That figure is below the West Midlands average of £16,885, and considerably lower than Shropshire, where it is £19,133.
The Equality Society has warned that the difference it is a classic example of Britain's 'highly unequal society".
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Telford & Wrekin Council leader Shaun Davies has said the authority is focused on supporting families, and also trying to attract the investment that will provide the borough's residents with skilled jobs.
He said: "This difference relates really to the fact we have got some historic low paid jobs and we are doing a huge amount of work trying to get high paid, high skilled jobs to the borough and we are having success with that in some industry that we are bringing into the town.
"As a council we are trying to be a family friendly town in the services we offer.
"It is also why we try to offer a really good service. Local council tax is the lowest in the Midlands, we do not charge for car parking in our towns and some of these things really help with the cost of living."
He added: "Telford & Wrekin council is definitely on the up but we would welcome the government doing more to match what we are doing in trying to regenerate the town."
The town's MP, Lucy Allan, said that the focus should not always be on finance, and that health inequalities can be just as damaging to a community – and questioned why a £312m investment is planned for Royal Shrewsbury Hospital under Future Fit.
She said: "Telford has pockets of significant deprivation which are amongst the most deprived in the country. This fact is often masked when statistics for the borough as a whole are used, as the Wrekin area fares much better than Telford across all indices of deprivation.
“A post war new town built on the East Shropshire coalfield, throughout its history, Telford has had to overcome obstacles. In the ’60s the last blast furnaces were blown out. In the ’70s the last collieries were closed. It was hit by the recessions of the ’80s and ’90s, with record unemployment at twice the national average and again by the great recession of 2008-09.
"What is incredibly heartening is that in the years since I first came to Telford, we are now seeing Telford thrive with, higher employment rates than ever before, more inward investment, and more skilled jobs.
“Whilst it comes as no surprise that Telford households have less disposable income than the Shropshire average, and less too than the West Midlands average, we should not forget the consequences of income inequality: crime rates, poor housing, the benefits trap, to name but a few, but the greatest injustice is the impact on health outcomes.
“When it comes to our healthcare and investing in healthcare for our future, it is a fundamental injustice that it is proposed that resources should be taken from an area of need and poor health outcomes and transferred to the more affluent area with better outcomes by every measure. This injustice is heightened when it is further proposed that one of the largest healthcare funding allocations to any area ever, should also be invested in the healthcare of that same area of affluence. I will keep fighting this injustice.
“When it comes to allocating funding for healthcare, we must never lose sight of the public duty to narrow inequalities – a duty that exists for all health bodies, the Department of Health and the Secretary of State.”
Ollie Locker, operations manager at food bank Telford Crisis Support, was shocked by the difference.
He explained how they some of the effects of the difference in people looking for help, and he urged people struggling to seek out support.
"It is a shocking difference. How can people be earning so much more on average? It's an interesting figure," he said.
"There are areas of deprivation in Telford. We help a lot of people who are in work, but a lot of the work that is in Telford is industrial and retail. We have three big industrial estates which provide a lot of the work. There are also a lot of people working in shops and bars, and that's where you get most of the zero hour contracts.
"There aren't as many higher skilled jobs available in the area. There are a few big companies like Cap Gemini, but it's mostly industrial and retail.
"We help lots of people who are in work, and not just part time. Full time as well. There's definitely a shortage somewhere. There's a need not being met.
"People can't put food on the table, working people. People just can't live off the income that they get.
"We do suggest people speak to Citizen's Advice. Support workers come in and talk to people in need as well.
"People are under a lot of pressure. Volunteers here do their best, but it's a lot of hard work."