Up to 40 per cent live in poverty in Weston-super-Mare
PUBLISHED: 07:00 22 February 2017 | UPDATED: 09:56 22 February 2017
Authorities are ‘failing’ people in Weston town centre, a councillor has claimed after ‘shocking’ statistics revealed four in 10 households are living in poverty.
An Office for National Statistics (ONS) report has revealed the true extent of inequality in Weston, with 39.5 per cent of homes living on the breadline.
Central ward councillor Mike Bell has accused North Somerset Council and the Government of offering ‘warm words but invisible interventions’ for town centre residents – who have to cope with inadequate ‘essential services’.
Cllr Bell has demanded authorities deliver ‘imaginative regeneration’ as a ‘catalyst for improvement’ in Weston.
He told the Mercury: “These are shocking figures but sadly not surprising. I’ve been campaigning for years to highlight the challenges faced by families and individuals living in the town centre.
“The harsh reality is there has been precious little investment in the town centre with health, education, jobs and more overstretched and underfunded. That’s changing thanks to the regeneration strategy – but not fast enough and not always in the right areas.”
The outlook in Weston’s South Ward is similar, with nearly 36 per cent of households earning less than two thirds of the average income after housing costs, which is the poverty line set by the ONS.
But just a stone’s throws away, in the Winterstoke ward area, only 18 per cent of households fall below the poverty line. The outlook in Worle, too, is better, although 15 per cent still live in poverty.
Figures are better in rural areas of North Somerset too, with around 15 per cent of households falling short of the benchmark income level in villages like Churchill, Sandford, Winscombe, and Wrington.
Cllr Bell called for improvement to the town’s ‘essential services’ – like schools, children’s centres and health facilities – in the wake of the report.
He added: “We’re told these are all on the council’s priority list, but at the moment progress is invisible.
“The council and Government are failing this community.
“The need is clear: we need to see investment in jobs, schools, health and children’s centres.
“The council must show leadership in arguing the case to government, in focussing its regeneration plans and in spending its own money to tackle these issues. Warm words but invisible interventions are not good enough.”
Fellow Central ward councillor Richard Nightingale agreed.
He said: “It is simply not right that in this day and age there can be such a difference across North Somerset.
“I want to see this gap closed so each child has the best start in life and nobody’s health or opportunities are affected due to low earnings.
“The council’s role is vital in improving this situation, not only through advice and services, but also through facilitating regeneration work, which we can see beginning in earnest in the town centre.
“The problems of deprivation are however the concern of everyone – public, private and voluntary sectors as well as residents in the communities.
“I refuse to believe these long-standing issues are too difficult to address and I am determined to do all I can to encourage and support everyone to play their part in making a difference.”
A council spokesman said the authority is working to tackle health inequality and deprivation, and improve employment opportunities.
The spokesman added: “The outcomes we are working towards in our corporate plan are packed with priorities which will work together to narrow the inequalities gap.
“Community development, health and wellbeing, community safety, housing, employment, education, transport and planning are all being considered as part of this process.
“More widely, longer-term measures are also under way which are expected, over time, to reduce levels of inequality. In Central ward, the town centre vision is delivering additional employment opportunities, better quality housing, and an improved local environment.”