‘Levelling up’ Hartlepool will be harder than Boris thinks
Coronavirus has exposed huge health inequalities across the country
Hartlepool, site of the forthcoming by-election, has been badly hit by Covid-19. The town’s death rate from the virus has been 27% higher than the national average — higher even than the rest of the North-East. Fortunately for the Conservatives, much of the electorate seems to be more interested in looking forward, and whether the Government can deliver on its promise to ‘level up’ places like Hartlepool. Yet coronavirus has uncovered huge health disparities across the country, and the Conservative government should be aware of the challenge they face.
Hartlepool was particularly vulnerable going into the pandemic because it started from a position of relatively poor health. It is near the top of national league tables for a range of ‘lifestyle’ risk factors. 76% of Hartlepudlians are classified as overweight or obese, the second highest share for local areas in England. It has the fifth highest proportion of adults who smoke at 19% — and it ranks 13th for alcohol-specific deaths.
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The consequences extend beyond susceptibility to coronavirus. Life expectancy in Hartlepool is around two years lower than the national average. Moreover, Hartlepudlians miss out on even more years of healthy life: men can expect around 58 years of healthy life, compared to 63 in the rest of the country; women 57 against a national average of 64.
Hartlepool is not an isolated case: life expectancy, especially for the poorest, has been stagnating. Throughout the 20th century, life expectancy rose by around three years in a typical decade. In the 2010s, we gained less than a year. For women in the most deprived areas, life expectancy even fell.
Hartlepool’s poor outcomes undoubtedly reflect deprivation and social disadvantage — average earnings are 7% below the rest of the country, and 22% of children are in poverty. But the bleak national picture reflects policy failure. Public health grants have been cut by 22% in the past five years, despite evidence to suggest that spending on prevention is four times as cost-effective as spending on healthcare. The Department of Health and Social Care apparently tried to “bury” its green paper on reducing smoking, drinking and poor diet in the days before Boris Johnson came to power, and the final document is seen as lacking ambition. There are rumours that the Government will water down its proposals to regulate junk food advertising. Persistent cuts to alcohol taxes have merely made drinking more affordable.
Elections are not just about winning. They are also about improving the lives of those who voted for you. Whoever prevails in Hartlepool on May 6th, addressing poor health there and in the rest of the country should be a top priority to repay the voters’ trust.
To view the Social Market Foundation’s full report, please click here.
‘Elections are not just about winning. They are also about improving the lives of those who voted for you.’
The people of Hartlepool have been voting Labour for as long as anyone can remember, and it hasn’t done them much good, has it? Perhaps it’s time to try another option.
This article is obviously written as an implicit criticism of the Tories. However, the facts it deploys act as an explicit damning of everything Labour has ever done for the town. The writer is hoist by his own petard. Yet another think-tanker who appears incapable of thought.
Yes, Hartlepool has voted Labor. But what party has been longer in Gov, Tories or Labor (since the end of WW2)? Whoever is in power governs for the whole country – or doesn’t it?
A Labor MP in opposition (surely you know how UK GOV works?) can do very little. The reality is that “levelling up” is an empty slogan. German unification is a good example of “levelling up” costs.
WG has transferred (and will continue to do so) c.€2 trillion to EG since 1990. It financed it through taxation (solidarity tax of 5%) and doubling of Ger. Gov. Debt during the 90s.
Let’s say that “levelling up” will cost c.£900b over the next 30 years (extra spending). Who/what is UK GOV going to tax? Will the GOV debt increase by (say) half to c.150% of GDP by the end of 2031?
You make a valid point Jeremy. It is diluted somewhat when you consider that the MP from 1994 to 2004 was one Peter Mandleson. Not just any MP and someone with significant influence on government policy. He and the Labour government did nothing to improve the lives of people in Hartlepool.
Mandleson was the one sent to scour the world for (less suitable, or unskilled, low education, poor) migrants, and found a million of them, the Telegraph has the quote of the event “The huge increases in migrants over the last decade were partly due to a politically motivated attempt by ministers to radically change the country and “rubtheRight’snosein diversity”,…”
This was Disastrous for the low skilled British, yet they obediently accepted it all.
It’s not the Labour MPs in opposition, it’s the Labour councils in office.
I sort of agree with this and I agree with Jeremy Smith as well.
The question is who is responsible for the poverty? I feel (perhaps against the rest of UnHerd contributors) that the tone of the town is set by the local councils and not necessarily by the government in Westminster.
My immediate area has been Labour voting since the Bronze Age and will never change. The nearest town to me has had a Labour-controlled council for the same length of time. The town is in a disgusting state; people are clearly very poor; drug abuse is rife. Whole areas are effectively No-Go at night.
Ten miles in the other direction is another similar town. It has two MPs, one is Plaid Cymru and the other is Conservative. The town looks great, tourists visit on their way to the seaside (missing out the first town completely), the centre (pre-Covid) was booming and new businesses are always arriving. The town council is mainly independents or Conservatives.
I know that the above is true and it mirrors the same set-up in Cheshire, where my family live. There, one town is doing well and another is rotting. History comes into this but there is clearly something in the way the councils spend their money.
Well, yes, anything run by Labour (or the Democrats in the US) will be a ****hole. It is the inevitable consequence of their belief system.
As for Hartlepool, we all expected and hoped that New Labour would ‘level up’ but instead they sold the north and their traditional support down the river by pandering to the City and embarking on insane wars etc. Anything, but anything, has to be better than Labour, as the people of Hartlepool demonstrated when they voted for the monkey guy as mayor,
Have you ever been to Wellingborough and wider Northamptonshire. Tory for ever and run into the ground.
I hope Reform SDP if Running &ANY Independents for change do well on mAY6 , keir stumblers arrogance in choosing A ”Remainer” Candidate (Who makes No Secret of his rejoin eu ambitions)0 deserves a bloody Nose , as does Boris &Ed’s soap opera on iD cards .. Not much choice on 3 ‘Blind mice’ is there?
Excellent point and one that I made to my lefty friends shocked at the collapse of the Red Wall. I asked them how they would vote if they lived in one of those seats. “Definitely Labour” was the retort. I then accused them of being the conservatives and voting for the status quo while condemning former Labour voters for wanting som change. As you might imagine it blew their minds and then the conversation became less fact based.
If voters want change they must not let their votes be taken for granted. Less blind loyalty and more transactional voting is what they need.
I would also add that more voting is needed.
“Hartlepool’s poor outcomes undoubtedly reflect deprivation and social disadvantage ” – you might also claim that a lot of the poor outcomes come from people making stupid lifestyle choices. I would probably be classed as poor but I know how to live healthily and I do.
This is the nub.
I am convinced that the vast majority of people (including me) know full well that they are making terrible lifestyle choices when they choose unhealthy activity.
In that case, you start to get down to a civil liberties question about whether people should be forced to make the choices you/we wish them to make.
Maybe the real point is that poor folk have far fewer sources of pleasure available, so won’t forego “comfort food” without feeling miserable.
e.g. they don’t have the option of looking forward to their next villa holiday in Italy (to provide solace) …..
Also a Big Mac is cheaper than organic avocado on gluten free wholemeal toast. More seriously, it does cost more to have a healthy, low-pesticide diet (which may also need better education about healthy eating, and more time spent on the meals).
Healthy food is actually somewhat cheaper than unhealthy food, with fruit and veg having been at historically low prices for some years now. I was thrown off the Guardian’s CIF for making this point.
It doesn’t give you the instant gratification though-you can get a packet of biscuits for about same price as an apple. When I was unemployed I was surprised how many people spend quite a lot of money on food like pasties . You have to organize yourself and make a batch of flapjack , for example, for when you need instant food.Obviously if you are unemployed you have more time , more time to cook and more time to take your children for walks and take a picnic and more time to read to your children. This is the sort of thing most mothers (especially) did with their children but they have been frightened off it now for some reason.
I was thrown off the Guardian’s CIF for making this point.
You should wear that one as a badge of honour. 🙂
I once saw an interview with an overweight couple from Middlesborough, discussing the issue of life expectancy and how it was lower in the town than the UK average. The interviewer asked them what they though of that, to which they replied. “That’s terrible. It makes me consider moving house.”
They might have been making a joke-the north-east is still full of very humerous people. Both mine and my partners’ families moved to north-east ( about 1900) because there was plenty of well-paid work. When this dried up they started to move away to find work elsewhere. It is the left-behinds that you are seeing, with all their various problems.
I spent about 10 years in Yorkshire and the dry wit was so dry it was miserable. This is a part of Yorkshire life.
(I realise that Hartlepool is not Yorkshire but it isn’t that far away).
Your sneering contempt is so tiresome.
What an age we live in where ‘deprivation and social disadvantage’ make you eat too much and become fat. This would have been a great ‘problem’ to have for society’s poorest for 99% of our history.
That is a brilliant comment..you beat me to the punch. The last 50 years are indeed the first time in all of the tens or hundreds of thousands of years of human history, whence the poorest weakest and least able have had the ability to become fat. Whereas the well off spend considerable effort trying to look as thin as possible.
What strange times we live in …. it will not last
These kind of articles are funny. Because richer people on average live longer and healthier lives, the assumption is that if you put more money in people’s wallets they will automatically become healthier and live longer. That misses the point that “correlation is not causation”.
Wealthier people exercise more, eat better, smoke less, use drugs less, etc etc.
If someone ever demonstrates a physiologic pathway that goes directly from the wallet to the coronary arteries, then all these intervening co-variables will become meaningless. Until that day, I continue to giggle at these righteous do-gooders who think that if the rest of us would just pony up some cash, we could easily save (actually extend, to be more accurate) lives.
I work in an ER in Canada. Welfare cheques come out every 2 weeks. We do not see a spike in broccoli sales and purchases of gym memberships on cheque day. What we do see is a spike in drug and alcohol sales and use, and a resultant spike in ER visits for assaults, domestic abuse, and overdoses. This is actually documented as “the cheque effect”.
The overall idea that a government has the power to change an individual’s health status relative to others in the society is utopian. The government can provide opportunities for good health decisions, and they should, but they have always been – and will always be – preferentially leapt at by those who are already the healthiest.
Absolutely correct. Indeed the first consequence of putting money directly into poor people’s pockets may well be that they may over indulge with the more luxurious foods.
The point about correlation is also a good one. It is not that wealth leads directly to better health. It is that the kind of behaviours and culture that lead to becoming wealthier, also lead to becoming healthier. Neither wealth nor health are a consequence of each other but are instead both linked to a culture that is based around deferred gratification.
Maybe the reason they are wealthy is that they don’t waste their money on ciggies and booze. Its always puzzled me why those the least able to afford to smoke, do so. Most people on the council estate i grew up on smoked.. many still do.
I have never understood the most deprived areas voting the same way for years . Surely if the current lot haven’t improved things you might be better off with a change.
Hartlepool has a unique place in history as the town that had never seen a monkey so when one arrived they hung it .
But even more strangely it had that ultimate metropolitan Peter Mandelson as its MP.
Do you think a Tory MP will improve deprived areas?
What can any MP do about Blackpool? Make foreign vacations illegal?
“What can any MP do about Blackpool? Make foreign vacations illegal?”
Didn’t they just do that?
True. Problem solved!
“I vote Labour, my Dad voted Labour, his Dad before him voted Labour”. A sizable proportion of the electorate think no further than this and that is why they vote Labour.
Whereas “rich people vote Conservative – so if I vote Conservative I’ll be rich” makes sense?
It might be better to look at what the parties do while in office. Then again, since the Conservative government seems to channel more money to Conservative councils, on one pretext or another, it may make sense to elect Tories in local government – if you can stomach their desire to cut services to the poor.
If “Labour is the party of the poor”, it certainly makes sense for Labour to ensure their core vote stays poor.
Dump Scotland and spend the ‘bonus’ on good old Hartlepool. QED?
Don’t forget to dump NIreland as well!
If you’re going down that route, why not dump all of the North, and spend the money on the City of London, with perhaps a little left over for the Home Counties (since that’s pretty much what happens already)?
Yes indeed, should be top of the list.
First, the town is hellishly difficult to get to with no rail links. Second, the only sizeable local business seems to be that grim call centre on the docks – if it is still there. I was last there when Stuart Drummond (H’Angus the Monkey) was serving his first term as mayor – so a long time ago now. I wanted to tell his story, but could not interest the media elite. Channel 4’s then Head of Drama said and I quote “Is there anything more to this than character rubbing up against plot?” You what?!! It was the story of Brexit in the making, one of the most important British stories of the early 21st century. It so should have been told. Even Stuart gave up on trying to turn things round in the end. He was a good guy, and, though shocked to win, did throw himself seriously at the task. But his powers were very limited and both local and national politicians and civil servants set him up to fail. As he tells it. Mandelson was furious that he won.
Is the author claiming that huge health disparities are “breaking news” to him?
And once again not a single question as to why? Maybe, for example, the people in some places who had the get up and go, got up and went. Certainly the ones likely to be healthier, younger not in need of family support, the ones that could move and get a good job say in London or somewhere else in the UK. One of the cities that attracts the young and fit and mobile youngsters yearning to be free. And who is dispropotionately left behind?
Ah, the traditional Left-wing approach to any problem, tax it (alcohol and sugar taxes) or ban it (junk food advertising).
The former will just increase the number of children “living in poverty”. We should stop focussing on child poverty because children are not earners or benefit claimants. It’s the parents who are poor and who need to be helped to be better off, through education and work, not handouts.
Nobody is truly poor in this country (as today’s Unherd article about India demonstrates), otherwise the poor would be emaciated rather than obese.
I’m not sure what the council will be able to do about the chronic underfunding of the police (“Hartlepool: The town where ‘police don’t come out’”), or the loss of mining and shipbuilding jobs, or even the current problems of the fishing industry. These days, councils mostly seem to decide which services to cut first, due to cuts in local government budgets (the Covid-related collapse in business rates won’t help). They can’t even build houses any more.
I live in Hartlepool. The previous Council was Labour controlled and they pi##ed away millions on vanity projects, white elephants and a whole plethora of c**k ups, absolutely none of which were any benefit to the town or it’s population. It looks reasonably likely that the town will return a Tory MP for the first time in a generation, and there are three reasons for this. One, Tees Valley has a Tory mayor, Ben Houchen, who is enormously popular across almost the whole political spectrum by virtue of the fact that he’s delivered on every promise he made. There seems little doubt that he will continue to push for inward investment, perhaps even more so if the Red Wall loses probably its most significant brick. Secondly, the prospective Labour MP is an ardent Remainer, chosen from a shortlist of one by the local party, having been ousted from nearby Stockton South in 2019. 70% of those in Hartlepool that voted, voted to leave the EU. Thirdly, people in Hartlepool have long memories and, despite recent attempts to rewrite history with spin, they remember that the downgrading of our local University Hospital and the loss of A and E provision happened under a Labour MP, Labour Health Secretary and Labour government.
The causes of inequality are very deep rooted in England, and include early industrialisation and its subsequent early decline. It would be worth all of us being a little humble in the face of this huge challenge.
Certainly it is easy to think that Boris Johnson’s government could well follow a series of glib remedies focussed on ‘investment’ in pet projects that will achieve little. (Certainly HS2 seems to have nothing to offer Hartlepool and similar towns).
The author however seems to have no ideas other than a host of nanny state initiatives which impose additional costs on poor people.
All these comments are boring and sneery.
What this city needs is roosveltian levels of investment.
Also this highlights the real socio-economic inequality in this country; geographic and class(and not racial as blm insist)and it mainly affects white people.
We should be more like Germany with a healthy distribution of wealth across the country instead of concentrated pockets-it makes our country backwards.
Well said. Probably not a popular comment.. and maybe a tiny bit misguided as Germany isnt exactly the shining light on the hill you think it to be…. but well said anyway
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