Seaside Towns: can Think Tanks…and Morrissey…be wrong?

After a lovely sunny July, many people will have headed to the coast and perhaps even visit a few seaside towns.

However, this week the influential Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) think-tank has punctured that hazy seaside idyll with its report ‘Turning the Tide‘ with case studies of 5 seaside towns and warned that they and other similar places are stuck in a cycle of poverty, ‘suffer severe social breakdown’ and are becoming ‘dumping grounds’ for vulnerable people, which is ‘perpetuating the cycle’ of decline.

Is this inevitable and can the cycle be changed by a greater understanding of behavioural interventions?

It is first of all important to recognise this is not a new thing. I recall talking to Councillors in towns like this in the early 1990’s recession, and this was a well-known problem, with some London Council’s already sending homeless vulnerable people to empty properties in seaside resorts. Even during the boom years I recall a project in a seaside town primary school where 50% of the children had never been to the beach with their parents! It did not take a late 1980’s Morrissey song to tell me that ‘This is the coastal town, that they forgot to close down’ nor this current report either.

What behavioural actions could be taken to tackle repeating cycle of  concentrated low aspiration described by the report?

The report itself makes some big suggestions around school improvement and skills and attracting jobs but these sound very top-down and could take years. The price of housing in the rest of the South East and benefit changes in London could make the ‘dumping ground’ issue even worse in the short-term.

A more localised and rapid approach could perhaps involve the following :

  • Understanding the motivations of people in these areas. Motivations come from values the target groups values tend to be very different to those of both central and local government officers. This has consequences such as how people connect with others, particular values groups may not connect into the social networks that link to job opportunities or positive life choices (Newham used these techniques to understand resilience)
  • Working on resilience as an asset based approach is a way of providing the support and networks to enhance family and community level willpower to help break the cycle of low aspiration. A strategy such as Newham’s could include:
    • Early intervention
    • Free school meal in primary schools subject to budget availability
    • More intense literacy and reading schemes
    • Musical instrument learning to create an early sense of achievement
    • Greater reciprocity policies that tap into local people’s values and motivations around fairness – for example in the area of currently rationed social housing
  • Develop Co-operative schemes that back a resilience approach such as Oldham Council’s imaginative ‘giving people the tools for the job.’ This is different to Big Society approaches that tend to be characterised as reducing services and then expecting demotivated and demoralised local people to take up the slack for the lost service.  Instead an insight driven, asset based, co-operative and resilience approach provides new ways to deliver targeted and more personalised services to the people who most need it.

This agenda is also a lot less expensive than that suggested in the CSJ report, which might raise expectations, but then fail to deliver on them. At the same time it is also complementary to such a scheme too. Some Council’s are already taking this forward. Perhaps in the Autumn, as the sunshine fades, we may see more adopt this approach?

Charlie Mansell is Research and Development Officer for The Campaign Company. If you want to see what your own primary values set is, why not take the simple Values Questionnaire here.


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