Regarding Larry Elliot’s article on the report by Christina Beatty and Steve Fothergill on welfare, work and austerity (Report, 7 November), we have just completed our own research on Devolution and Disadvantage in the Sheffield City Region, which can be viewed as a case study of a severely deindustrialised area of the north comprising South Yorkshire and north-east Derbyshire, former coal and steel communities.
Our study findings are similar to Fothergill and Beatty, though we focus in more detail on two areas and these need to be fed into this very important debate on the nature and consequences of deindustrialisation in Britain. First, the nature of labour market disadvantage is complex and relates to a variety of groups such as women, young people and BAME people, as well as those on long-term sickness and disability benefits.
The second area we explore is devolution policies and here we argue that the devolution deals and agreements are closely linked to austerity policies and the various cuts (some of these being welfare-rated). While the devolution deal for the Sheffield city region financially involves £900m over 30 years (subject of course to an elected mayor and other milestones), we have found that cuts to welfare and local authority budgets between 2010 and 2014 amounted to £1.1bn. As outlined in the article and report, the welfare cuts in no way actually contribute to raising employment rates. In reality, austerity is contributing to increased personal and family impoverishment and debt. It is also seriously undermining the city-regional growth model trumpeted as the “northern powerhouse”. This is because of the distortions to the labour market through increasing segmentation, which welfare conditionality actually creates.
This means that the actual impact of policies is that a more limited cohort of labour can access skills and apprenticeships, which is deemed as essential to devolution growth strategies. So, we would certainly welcome widening this important debate.
Dr David Etherington Middlesex University
Professor Martin Jones University of Sheffield