The opinions expressed in this blog are entirely my own and not the views of the town council.
Chris Ruane MP, on behalf of the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), has sought Rhyl town council’s views on the reasons for high levels of Incapacity Benefit claims and unemployment in some seaside towns, and ideas to combat them. I have sent the following comments to our town council office:
Rhyl seems to have a high level of unemployment because jobless people from other parts of North Wales (and further afield) are being attracted here by easy availability of cheap rented accommodation. My view is that DWP offices ought to have the power to refuse benefit claims from jobseekers who turn up in unemployment blackspots such as Rhyl with no job to go to and no family already here.
In Rhyl the cheap rented accommodation includes small units of furnished accommodation – bedsits and flatlets – within buildings that used to be guest houses and small hotels; also it includes accommodation in caravan parks. All these locations may be viewed as stepping stones towards social housing provided locally by housing associations such as Clwyd Alyn. My view is that we may be on a treadmill. When Clwyd Alyn and other social landlords take tenants from the private sector, the tenants’ vacated accommodation is quickly filled up by more people arriving.
A significant number seem to arrive in poor health physically and/or mentally, and maybe with lifestyle problems arising from the habitual use of alcohol and other drugs, and with poor education, training and employment records – and perhaps criminal records. The younger ones tend to wear the uniform of the loser, i.e. sports clothes with or without hoods, and they seem unable to string together a sentence without using the F word. My view is that they are victims of their own culture; it is difficult to see how they could be taken seriously in the commercial job market unless they would accept intensive help and guidance first.
Intensive help for people with behavioural problems such as addiction to alcohol and other drugs, and habitual vagrancy, appears to be available in Rhyl through projects such as SOVA’s day centre in Clwyd Street. The downside may be that clients are referred to Rhyl from other towns where similar services are not available. My view is that we may be on another treadmill. Such projects are involved in resettling incoming clients and others in wards where deprivation levels are already too high.
Many tenants in deprived areas tend to be regarded as ‘transient’. This term may be misleading. The tenants appear to move frequently, but they do not necessarily move far. Very often it is a case of tenants moving from one house of multiple occupation (HMO) to another HMO nearby - to get away from difficult neighbours. A number of tenants seem to live in Rhyl on and off, and live in some other town or city for periods inbetween. My view is that these patterns of movement are reflected by the fact that a number of individuals, couples and families, identifiable by unusual names or initials, appear on the electoral roll twice (or more than twice) in the deprived wards.
In addition to suggestions made above, I feel there is a case for the purchase and demolition of HMOs in areas where there is a high density of population, instead of improving them. I would not be in favour of compulsory purchase, but the HMOs do need to be replaced by family houses and/or green spaces if possible. While they remain, the HMOs keep filling up again and the social problems never seem to reduce substantially.
I feel that there is a case for putting limits on the activities of social landlords such as housing associations. Whereas owner-occupiers and private landlords can move up and down market as the economy of the town breathes in and out over the decades, social housing - by definition - remains permanently downmarket and therefore it should be reduced/not allowed in town centre areas where at times it would act as a drag on regeneration.
I hope these comments are useful to Mr Ruane and the DWP. I might be able to add further comments if given a precise definition of ‘employment’.