Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Grimsville, Blaenau Gwent

"A century ago, 2,400 men worked at the Marine Colliery. The miners and their families had come to the valleys from hundreds of miles around - some had literally walked to the valleys, drawn by the prospect of employment", the BBC tells us. And now the mines have closed and there is no work. All very sad.

But now that the employment has gone elsewhere, why don't their descendants follow it? Why don't they walk on like their grandparents?

""Why don't you leave?" I ask some unemployed men in their 50s. "Because we are valley boys," comes the reply. "This is home." The green, green grass…

And where would they go? Often with few if any qualifications and no savings, the idea of leaving family and friends for somewhere unknown, without a place to live and no guarantee of employment, does look ill-advised.

What really is the problem here? There are no jobs where they live. Somewhere else in the UK they will get the same benefits (same income, same savings) but have a better chance of a job. So the qualifications, savings and lack of guaranteed employment are irrelevant. 

Perhaps their friends (who sound like a pretty depressed bunch) are so much fun that they can't face the prospect of only seeing them at weekends if they moved a few miles down the road to Newport or Cardiff. That seems unlikely. Lots of people have friends and family; lots of people move away from them for work and to build a better future for their children.

The real problem is "without a place to live". It is very hard to move within the social housing sector. The priority for housing people in, say, Newport or Cardiff will be homeless people, and not those who are intentionally homeless (see this), so giving up your council house and housing benefit in, say, Cwm, and going to Newport to look for work on the offchance would leave you much worse off. Why would you do that?

So perfectly reasonable government policies aimed at avoiding homelessness have the effect of punishing anyone in the Ebbw Valley who tried to repeat his grandfather's attempt to find work. The government is subsidising these people to sit there, uselessly and not feeling to happy about it. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

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