Reflections on the ONS study about Oldham and other towns

oldham-skyline-with-civic

Image taken from Stretch The Horizon

I know that many of you will be aware that the Office for National Statistics (ONS) recently published a study into housing and poverty [1], which found Oldham is the most deprived town in England. What does this mean for Oldham? For many of us this will feel like another report that paints a negative picture of our town. It is important we take the time to analyse these data; for example, it is noteworthy that the methodology [2] used to define the geographical area which relates to Oldham as a town is experimental and hasn’t been used before[3]. Having said that we recognise that Oldham has challenges, and that’s why so many people have been working hard to build a fairer Oldham for all our residents.

The ONS study considered factors such as income, employment, health, education skills and training and crime. It also looked at disability, access to housing and the built environment in cities and towns in England and Wales. You can read the full study here.

Data from the study shows that Oldham ‘town’ had over 60% of their local areas (also known as Lower Super Output Areas or LSOAs) ranked in the most deprived 20% of areas in England.[4] In fact, the 28 towns and cities with the largest percentage of deprived areas were in the north or midlands of England, whilst the towns and cities with the largest percentage of least deprived areas of England were Guildford, Woking and St Albans, located in the south of England and each had over 50% of their local areas ranked in the least deprived 20% of areas in England.

The study also revealed that median (typical) house prices in towns and cities in the south have generally risen by more than in towns and cities in Wales and English regions in the north and midlands. From 2010 to 2015, median house prices increased by over 20% in 26 towns and cities, all located in the south of England. Cambridge had the highest increase at 46.9%.[5] This perhaps points to deep rooted regional differences between the North and the South which has seen Northern areas chronically under resourced and under invested. Oldham Council has lost nearly half of its budget in recent years and devolution appears to be a route to pass on cuts in public sector funding. So much for the Northern Powerhouse.

Although unemployment rates have reduced in the Borough recently we still have more to do to build a highly skilled population. 14.7% of Oldham ‘town’ residents have a level 4 qualification or above and suffer with low income levels and this is in contrast to St Albans where 47.2 percent of residents had a level 4 qualification or above.

However, the ten most deprived towns and cities overall generally had much lower rankings for barriers to housing and services and living environment deprivation. Oldham ranked at number one on the Indices of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) but ranked 101 out of 109 towns and cities in England on the barriers to housing and services domain. This could be attributed to lower house prices in these areas when compared with other towns and cities. [6] Oldham ‘town’ also ranked 64 out of 109 for barriers to the living environment.

OFC with Greenacres pupils

At the 2016 Oldham Fairness Commission Conference with commissioners and conference participants including pupils from  St Anne’s R C Primary School.

It is clear we have more to do; for instance Oldham Foodbank is one of the busiest in the country; but it is important that we also point to the number of actions and initiatives in the Borough, which the study will not have necessarily considered. One of the main reasons I established the Oldham Fairness Commission (OFC) [7] was to tackle persistent inequalities in the Borough. The OFC which reported last March, was composed of local individuals with proven knowledge and expertise from the public, private and voluntary sectors. One outcome of inequalities is that there is more than an 11 year life expectancy ‘gap’ between men who live in the most and least deprived parts of the borough. But many of these inequalities are not fixed or inevitable. The OFC has gathered evidence though oral hearings and written submissions and a full report was produced in March 2015 with recommendations to take forward.  On the 29th January the OFC hosted its conference. Over 100 people joined us at Mahdlo as the OFC commissioners discussed their draft plans to tackle inequalities and build a ‪Fairer Oldham. There were some great questions and discussions as people put across their thoughts and challenged Commissioners on their plans. This is not the end of the process but just the beginning in fact! We will be sharing details and outcomes from the conference in the comings weeks so please watch this space. Find out more here.

The Oldham Education and Skills Commission, commissioned by Oldham Council and chaired by Estelle Morris has conducted a wide-ranging review of education provision locally. It made 19 recommendations and focuses on achieving two key targets in Oldham by 2020 – that all performance indicators to be at the national average or above and that all education providers are to be judged ‘good’ or better by Ofsted. I see this as a promising initiative working hand in hand with local school and colleges to improve education in the Borough.

Oldham Council initiatives such as Get Oldham Working  support local residents into sustainable jobs[8] and the warm homes scheme, which has lifted more than 3,300 people out of fuel poverty[9] are having a positive impact locally. The investment in the town centre and public transport infrastructure are helping to regenerate the town.  The regional science centre is helping to create a passion for science amongst young people. Organisations such as the Link Centre, Voluntary Action Oldham and the hundreds of voluntary and community organisations are helping people and creating a community that looks out for each other. Oldham Business Leadership Group and the Chamber of Commerce are assisting the businesses and entrepreneurs of the future. This all points to a positive direction of travel. And I play my part by hosting a Summer School for young people in July every year.[10]

I am immensely proud to represent the people of Alexandra, Lees, Saddleworth, Shaw and Crompton, St Marys, St James and Waterhead. The people of our Borough are resilient and I meet constituents who inspire me every day, who work hard and won’t give up, who will help others before thinking of themselves.  We owe it to them to push ourselves so everyone in the Borough whoever they are and wherever they come from are able to dream big and reach their full potential.

I can promise you that I will continue to work hard to tackle inequalities and unfairness in our Borough. I will continue to put initiatives such as the Oldham Fairness Commission, and my summer school for young people at the heart of what I do. I passionately believe that one of our strengths is our social and cultural diversity, and of the warmth and generosity of people from all backgrounds; but poverty, isolation and exclusion can threaten this. It is incumbent on all of us not to let this happen. I will continue to do my bit nationally and in Oldham to build a fairer, more equal society, which as we know, benefits us all. I hope you can join me.

You can keep up to date with what I am doing on this website, facebook and twitter If you have any ideas or comments please don’t hesitate to get in touch! You contact me by email on abrahamsd@parliament.uk, by telephone on 0161 624 4248, and in writing to my constituency office – 11 Church Lane, Oldham, OL1 3AN.

 

[1] ONS Towns and Cities Analysis, 2016, http://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/housing/articles/townsandcitiesanalysisenglandandwalesmarch2016/2016-03-18

[2] https://geoportal.statistics.gov.uk/Docs/Major_Towns_and_Cities_Methodological_Note_and_User_Guidance.pdf

[3] 2011 Oldham BUASD http://www.nomisweb.co.uk/keystats/sqmap.aspx?kv=1119884960&type=-1&title=Greater+Manchester+-+Oldham+BUASD+(built-up+areas+including+subdivisions)

[4] ONS Towns and Cities Analysis, 2016, http://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/housing/articles/townsandcitiesanalysisenglandandwalesmarch2016/2016-03-18

[5] ONS Towns and Cities Analysis, 2016, http://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/housing/articles/townsandcitiesanalysisenglandandwalesmarch2016/2016-03-18

[6] ONS Towns and Cities Analysis, 2016, ibid

[7] Oldham Fairness Commission 2016 http://www.debbieabrahams.org.uk/oldham-fairness-commission

[8] Get Oldham Working, http://www.oldham.gov.uk/gow

[9] Cllr Eddie Moores, Oldham Council cabinet member for Health, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-35842488

[10] http://www.debbieabrahams.org.uk/2015/working-for-your-community-summer-school-applications-open

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