A Conservative thinktank has warned that Rishi Sunak must prioritize leveling up struggling seaside towns in England or face a political backlash at the next general election. The thinktank Onward has released a report titled “Troubled Waters”, which reveals that coastal communities within 5km of England’s coast are experiencing higher rates of poverty, ill-health, and crime compared to their inland counterparts. The report calls for a regeneration package of £500 million to address these issues.
Statistics highlighted in the report demonstrate the severity of the problem. Coastal areas have 15% higher rates of early, preventable deaths, 12% higher crime rates, and average disposable incomes £2,800 lower than their inland neighbors. It is worth noting that coastal constituencies played a significant role in the Brexit referendum, with 83% voting to leave, compared to 66% inland. These areas also heavily supported Boris Johnson’s message of “getting Brexit done” in the 2019 general election.
The report emphasizes that coastal areas have historically swung behind the winning party in elections, making them crucial to political success. However, if the government fails to address the issues faced by these communities, there is potential for a significant shift in support away from the Conservative Party.
The decline of traditional industries like fishing and shipbuilding, the seasonality of local economies, and the older populations in these areas are identified as underlying factors contributing to coastal deprivation. In addition, the decline of tourism in traditional English seaside destinations since the introduction of affordable air travel in the 1980s has exacerbated the situation.
The report also highlights disparities in income within short distances in coastal areas. For example, in Great Yarmouth, the average income is £23,600, while just over 10km inland, it jumps to £33,800. Similar discrepancies exist in other coastal towns.
Coastal towns also suffer from poor health outcomes, higher rates of unemployment, and a lack of affordable housing. Crime and antisocial behavior tend to increase during the summer months, overwhelming local police forces.
Onward recommends a comprehensive package of policies to regenerate these areas, including a £500 million coastal economy transformation program modeled on the Biden administration’s Recompete Pilot in the US. It also suggests giving local bodies more powers over infrastructure, planning, and skills.
Addressing the issues faced by coastal communities is crucial to achieving a more equitable society. Failure to do so could have significant political consequences for the Conservative Party.