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Coronavirus: ‘Left behind’ areas being hit harder by pandemic downturn, report warns | Politics News

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Around 2.4 million people living in Britain’s “left behind” communities risk falling deeper into deprivation because of coronavirus and are receiving less support than other areas, a new report has warned.

The 225 neighbourhoods they inhabit have fewer mutual aid groups – set up to help vulnerable people during the pandemic – and are getting around a third less financial help in grants for local charities.

MPs have formed a new campaign group to support those communities they deem “left behind” – meaning they fall in the top 10% of both the government’s Indices of Multiple Deprivation and a “Community Needs Index” developed by the Local Trust charity.

Social distancing signs in Blackburn town centre
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There are fewer mutual aid groups in ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods, the report said

COVID-19 has not impacted all communities equally,” their first report warns.

With higher numbers of people facing financial difficulty because they work in industries hit harder by lockdown and “underdeveloped” volunteering services, “left behind” areas will suffer more, it adds.

And they “risk falling further behind” as government investment, such as the Stronger Towns Fund, is focused on delivering improvements to town and city centres.

Grants have been handed out by the government to local charities, but the amount distributed per 100,000 people in left behind areas is £21,182 – compared to £60,312 across England as a whole, the report said.

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - AUGUST 22:  The derelict and neglected Poolway Shopping Centre in Garretts Green on August 22, 2018 in Birmingham, England. The Poolway Shopping Centre was built in 1961 and was once a thriving retail centre with local and big named shops. The site was compulsory purchased by Birmingham City Council and it is planned to be the new home for the Birmingham Museums Trust. Two shops still remain open and two families live in the flats above them whilst they wait to be relocated.  (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

It also found that despite volunteering ballooning in some areas, the amount of mutual aid groups equate to 3.5 per 100,000 people in left behind areas compared to 10.6 across England.

Paul Howell, who won Sedgefield for the Conservatives last December, chairs the new all-party parliamentary group for left behind neighbourhoods.

He told Sky News ministers should do more to support those areas to help them cope with the consequences of coronavirus.

“One of the biggest problems in my eyes has been the way government spending has been evaluated, they evaluate financial return as opposed to a society return,” he told Sky News.

“This has got to be something where you actually put some seeds of growth in that means that we don’t just pop in, do something nice, walk away again and then in five years’ time we’re back where we started…

“It starts with community and how we look after or create libraries, community centres, those sorts of things.

“I know there’s been pressures on these sorts of areas in recent times; we’ve got to find a way to get round that and put those sort of structures back in place.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson (left) gestures after pulling a pint with newly elected Conservative party MP for Sedgefield, Paul Howell during a visit to Sedgefield Cricket Club in County Durham.
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Paul Howell was one of the Tory MPs who broke Labour’s ‘red wall’

Mr Howell said Downing Street had warmed to the idea and there is a now “different profile” of Tory MPs lobbying Number 10 after the seismic gains made by the party in the north of England.

“On the occasions I’ve had the opportunity to raise it with the prime minister or the chancellor, the soundings that I get encourage me more to get on with what I’m doing in the belief – no, expectation – that we will get support from them.”

A government spokesman said: “Levelling up every part of the country remains central to the mission of this government, and is key to helping our communities recover from the impacts of coronavirus.

“Across the country, our Plan for Jobs will give business the confidence to recruit and retain workers, support all jobseekers to find employment, and through the Kickstart scheme create hundreds of thousands of new, subsidised jobs for young people.

“We have provided an unprecedented package of almost £28bn to support local councils, businesses and communities in fighting this pandemic. We’re also creating a UK Shared Prosperity Fund which binds together the whole of the UK, tackling inequality and deprivation in each of our four nations.”

Bridget Phillipson, the shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, has previously accused the government of not putting a big enough focus on jobs – and offering a “meal deal” in the form of subsidised meals out instead of the “new deal” Boris Johnson promised.

“Labour have called for support to be properly targeted, because different parts of our economy face very different challenges in the months ahead,” she said.

“Again and again, the government has stuck to a one-size fits all approach. one that risks wasting taxpayer money and not providing the most bang for our buck.”

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