Liverpool’s problems of poverty are long-term and not short-term

Peered

No-one can doubt that for many people living in Liverpool the struggle to survive on inadequate incomes is a key feature of their lives. This leads to illness, disease and a stunting of opportunity for those brought up in poverty. Regrettably this has been true for all the years since 1975 that I have been a councillor when for most of the time I represented the Dingle and Picton Road areas – some of the poorest parts of the City. In fact it has been true in the whole time that Liverpool, has existed. Even when the City was at its peak at the start of the last century and we had some of the wealthiest ship owners, banks, insurance companies and merchants in the World some people were still living “six in a bed at the old Pier Head!”
Yesterday’s report produced by the Mayor of Liverpool serves to highlight that and remind us of the duties that we all have to try and remedy the situation. However these problems may have been exacerbated over the past 5 years but they clearly existed before then.
The report has been very selective in choosing which cases to highlight. For example there are more than 160,000 people in Liverpool who have benefitted from the reduction in the income tax they pay by up to £800 per year. From September 2014 all infants’ school children have been eligible for a free hot meal during term time – a saving to family budgets of £430 per year. Pensioners, who are often amongst the most poor in our society have received increases above the rate of inflation and above the rise in average wages for the past 4 years ending a time when for the previous 25 years, under Labour and Tory Government alike, they progressively slipped behind the rest of the population.
But if we believe that the problems of poverty seem written into the DNA of our city we must also accept that only radical new proposals will enable us to change that DNA. I recently mapped the unemployment levels in the Liverpool 8 post code for more than 50 years. It didn’t matter who was in power locally or nationally the unemployment rate was approximately twice the national average. Yet when I did the same exercise for Liverpool 18 the unemployment rate was never less than one third of the national rate.
But if we look behind those figures we see that whilst we are talking about the same areas we are not necessarily talking about the same people and families. Liverpool 8 has since the 1930s served as the ‘reception area’ for immigrant communities. Many of those have left the area by the time they reach the same levels of educational attainment and opportunity of indigenous communities. My own Church Ward is a case in point. We have quite a level of residents whose family origins were far away. However they now have the same mix of employment and education as the rest of the population.
This is also true of the indigenous communities. Mums and Dads who bring up their kids well in many parts of the City still see their progeny disappearing into the wealthier areas often far from their place of birth. Given the opportunity they choose to live their neighbourhood of origin and move to the outskirts and far distant lands of Formby and Maghull.
There are three key ways of changing the long-term poverty in our city:
Firstly we must provide growth in our economy and then;
Secondly link people out of work in our city to the employment opportunities that have been created; and finally
Thirdly create the types of housing, neighbourhoods and communities that they want to live in so they don’t take their skills and money with them
The story of Liverpool for the years since World War 2 is that we have been able partially to do the first of these; have largely been unable to do the second; and really have not even begun to look at the issues in the third in anything other than a piecemeal uncoordinated way People with ability still live close to opportunities that they cannot access. This can only be done by continuing the improvement in educational attainment which began in 2000 and continues to this day.
So let us look at all three of these in turn:
There can be no doubt that the economic tide of Liverpool began to turn in the first decade of this Century and subsequently. By becoming Capital of Culture Liverpool reinvented itself. The huge success of that coupled with the investment it brought in Liverpool One, The Arena and Conference Centre, the hotels and other tourist attractions continues to this day. Liverpool is no longer seen as a lame duck whingeing in ‘boys from the black stuff’ style but is seen as a progressive city of opportunity. Every Conference we host, every big event brings people into our City who see the light and reject everything that they have been told in popular culture about our city and see it from the vibrant cultural base that it is. BUT clearly there is a long way to go with many parts of the City seemingly cut off from investment and many opportunities that we could be taking, especially those based on our Universities going elsewhere.
One only need to go to Liverpool One to realise how far we need to go to ensure that Liverpool people are able to take advantage of Liverpool opportunities. Despite being on the edge of our major areas of BME populations there are few from those communities working in our shops, hotels or at higher levels of employment anywhere. Clearly the key to starting this process is education. In 1998 Liverpool came within months of the Labour Government taking all education out of our hands. The Lib Dem administration responded and started the process which is continuing to this day to raise educational standards in schools and the aspirations of some of our students. Our three Universities are first class but too many of their students drain away because they cannot find work in a city that they have come to love.
I welcome the fact that for the second time the Government has asked Liverpool to host the International Festival of Business. The fact that we have a national event of this nature here will bring opportunities to us. But we must make our own opportunities as well. We import too many goods and services into the City Region which could be provided by our own people and companies. There is much that could be done in ‘London’ to ensure that a much wider group of people are aware of our opportunities.
Lastly we need to make Liverpool a city that people want to live in. The population of the City started to creep up in 2005/6 but we still have an infrastructure capable of comfortably looking after 550,000 instead of the 460,000 who currently live here. BUT still many people leave our city when they start to have children. City Centre flats are alright for young and old but not for the middle area of bright young people with kids. They still go off out of the city to find the area that they want to live in with the facilities that they require for them and their family. We are building far too many flats in this city and not enough houses. Our Development Framework is outdated and not fit for purpose but the council still seems eager to grasp the hand of any developer irrespective of whether or not those developments meet the long term needs of our city.
Our City lacks effective leadership. Our Council has no long-term coherent plan for what we should be; what we should feel like; what we should be doing over the next 20 years. Unless we do think ahead and think big we will continue to have large areas where people cannot link in to real opportunities which can lift them out of poverty. As the saying goes we need to have a boat which floats for all.

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About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. UK representative on UCLG Finance Committee, Executive Bureau and World Council. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperon on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and three grandchildren.
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One Response to Liverpool’s problems of poverty are long-term and not short-term

  1. joedd says:

    Liverpool is a tale of two cities ”the have and the have-nots”- go a mile in any direct from Liverpool 1 – you will see abject poverty – you can physically see poverty in the faces of peoples. We have shooting – stabbings – on a weekly basis, people sleeping on the streets – working women – drug pushers in the North of the city. Liverpool has become a city of crime and poverty.
    Mayor Anderson shows his contempt for the poor by posting a photograph of himself on twitter sitting at his kitchen table carving a huge piece of meat……… while people use food banks he sits at the table of plenty. If you want to see the true measure of a man, watch how he treats the vulnerable and poor, not his equals….

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