A recent study co-authored by Dr Mylène Riva and Prof Sarah Curtis, Director of Frontier Knowledge in IHRR, looks at the health inequalities experienced by communities who live in former coalfields, when compared with other communities in England. While some coalfield communities are doing better than others, possibly demonstrating individual resilience, people living in coalfield communities are more prone to limiting long-term illnesses such as asthma or chronic arthritis. The importance of this research is that it reveals how socioeconomic conditions impact the physical health of communities and in this case the impact can be quite large. According to the study, people living in coalfield communities are 27 percent more likely to report a limiting long-term illness compared to other communities in England.
Identifying communities that are most vulnerable is needed in order to provide assistance, especially to poorer, predominately rural coalfield communities. According to Prof Sarah Curtis:
‘Coalfield areas vary considerably and it’s essential that government policy recognises the different levels of support that are needed and helps the areas with the greatest need. Some mining communities have struggled and need more assistance, whilst others have fared quite well, demonstrating considerable resilience in the wake of the huge job losses that affected these regions. A lot can be learnt from the success stories and regeneration schemes that have worked well. It will be helpful to share knowledge about the conditions fostering that success’.
The fact that better socioeconomic conditions often lead to better health outcomes is perhaps not surprising. It is the reason why many poor families struggle to ensure that their children have access to the best possible education to increase their chances of achieving a better quality of life. They know that poverty traps people in a state of helplessness and suffering, keeping them in a situation where they are no longer able to benefit themselves or others. But if one ‘pulls themselves up by their boot straps’, as it were, out of poverty, out of a state of powerlessness, they can live in better socioeconomic conditions which means both physical and social prosperity for themselves and their families.
There are of course difficulties with this fairly narrow viewpoint, namely that it puts the responsibility of health on individual communities rather than on the social, economic and political systems they interact with. Another perspective is that communities are not solely responsible for their state of poverty or social misfortune, rather they are victims of the socioeconomic conditions they live in and that blaming communities themselves is actually a grave injustice. What often happens is that the failings of the current socioeconomic systems in place are not questioned or criticised thoroughly enough to address the risks and social hazards they have produced.
The task of today is to understand not just where things went wrong, but also focusing efforts on exploring where opportunities exist for regenerating communities and examining closely how some coalfield communities develop resilience to the conditions they live in. ‘Communities that ‘bounced back’ from the pit closures of the 1980s may have been more able to adapt and may have had more local resources to overcome the job losses that hit them. The aim of regeneration is to help all mining communities to do this’, said Curtis.
This study has received quite a lot of attention from the media. Below are some links to local and national coverage, as well as a link to the study itself. Later this week we’ll post an interview with Dr Mylène Riva, lead author of the study.
North East mining areas still suffering from closures. BBC News Website
Coal communities ‘are still suffering years after cuts‘. Northern Echo
Riva, M., Terashima, M., Curtis, S., Shucksmith, J., & Carlebach, S. (2011). Coalfield health effects: Variation in health across former coalfield areas in England Health & Place, 17 (2), 588-597 DOI: 10.1016/j.healthplace.2010.12.016