HEREFORDSHIRE’S chronic “deprivation” surpasses Brixton, Swansea and Slough, according to the county’s social housing chief.
And, in an article written for the social housing website 24dash.com, Peter Brown, said that the county is trending downwards.
Cuts to welfare are estimated to hit Herefordshire to the tune of £43m a year and, as someone who works on the frontline in the battle against that deprivation, it’s a policy that Mr Brown believes is “unforgiveable”.
The reality, he said, is that these welfare changes target the poor, and communities that need support are the ones that will suffer.
“The report spells out unequivocally that the changes over the coming years will result in more people in the county living in poverty, with the poorest most affected,” said Mr Brown.
“I've worked in Brixton, Reading, Swansea, Slough, Birmingham and Walsall among others; everywhere there are problems, everywhere there is poverty.
“But for absolute deprivation, Herefordshire surpasses them all.”
His damning condemnation comes following the publication of Herefordshire Council’s annual review, Understanding Herefordshire.
The report paints an unflattering picture, not just economically, but also identifying the human costs to budget cuts by central government.
Mr Brown said: “In the poorest areas, over a quarter of children in Year Six are obese.
“As they approach 18, they are over three times more likely to be admitted to hospital due to binge drinking than if they live in the least deprived areas, significantly higher than the national average.
“Those living in the most deprived areas are a third more likely to die of cancer, nearly 50 percent more likely to die of coronary heart disease and Herefordshire’s children are more likely than their neighbours of becoming ‘in need’.
“This is why we invest in society. This is exactly what the welfare state was designed for.
“Morally, because it’s the right thing to do, but also for efficiency and productivity.
“The costs of dealing with breakdowns, crises and abuse, far outweigh early intervention and prevention.”
The Understanding Herefordshire report itself also outlines the economic one-two punch of low wages and relatively high house prices that is critical to Herefordshire’s poverty levels.
More businesses are closing than starting up, according to the latest statistics available in the report, and there is no evidence to explain why Herefordshire’s wages are not increasing in line with its neighbours.
The knock-on effect on Herefordshire Housing markets is not good.
Mr Brown said: “Dramatically, around a fifth of households in Herefordshire live in poverty - homeownership is just not an option for many.”
And that £43m in cuts is not just coming out of the pockets of the poorest, he added, but £43m less in the local economy.
It is a spiralling effect that, with Herefordshire’s growing population and its worrying reliance on ‘low value sector’ employment outlined in the council report, could present real long-term problems for the area if not addressed.