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Coalfields 'still suffer years after closures'

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Coalfield communities face significant health problems and economic difficulties even decades after pit closures, according to new research.

Health problems including long-term limiting illnesses such as chronic arthritis, asthma and back problems are significantly more likely in some of these areas. Targeted regeneration could be key to boosting their recovery, the Durham University-led study said.

The findings reinforce calls for increased and more focussed Government assistance, particularly in poorer, predominantly rural coalfield communities.

Co-author of the Durham study, Professor Sarah Curtis, said: “Coalfield areas vary considerably and it’s essential that Government policy recognises the different levels of support that are needed and helps the areas with the greatest need.

“Some mining communities have struggled and need more assistance, whilst others have fared quite well, demonstrating considerable resilience in the wake of the huge job losses that affected these regions.

“A lot can be learnt from the success stories and regeneration schemes that have worked well. It will be helpful to share knowledge about the conditions fostering that success.”

The results, published in the journal Health and Place, also reveal that some less-deprived coalfield areas are faring relatively well in terms of health. That some of these areas have weathered the economic storm better in terms of health, the study said suggested regeneration efforts and the resilience of local communities may be helpful for health and wellbeing, as well as for the economy and jobs.

Professor Curtis added: “Communities that ‘bounced back’ from the pit closures of the 1980s may have been more able to adapt and may have had more local resources to overcome the job losses that hit them. The aim of regeneration is to help all mining communities to do this.”

Researchers at Durham University’s Institute of Hazard, Risk and Resilience, Dalhousie University, Canada, and Teesside University, surveyed 26,100 people including 4,750 from the country’s 55 coalfield areas for the study. They found that people living in coalfield communities were 27% more likely to report having a limiting long-term illness.

Between 1984 and 1997, 170,000 people lost their jobs in coalmining as pits closed across England and male employment in the English coalfield areas fell by 25%. Pit closures left coalfield communities with problems including environmental degradation, economic disadvantage, social deprivation and poor health. These have been exacerbated in some places by isolation, poor road access and inadequate infrastructures.

Andy Lock, assistant director of the CRT said: “The study confirms our experience of working in coalfields over the last 10 years. We know that health problems are still very severe in some places and our challenge from Government is to continue to address health inequalities.”  

The government has announced a 15% cut to the Coalfields Regeneration Trust, England’s flagship coalfields regeneration and renewal body, over the next two years with central funding likely to be halted entirely over the medium term.

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