Local AM David Rees, Chair of the ‘Cross Party Group on Industrial Communities’, has welcomed Professor Steve Fothergill, director of the Industrial Communities Alliance, to the Assembly. Professor Steve Fothergill attended the inaugural meeting of the ‘Cross Party Group on Industrial Communities’ and gave a presentation on his latest reports ‘Tackling Worklessness in Wales’ and ‘Incapacity Benefit Reform: The Local, Regional and National Impact’. An economist by background, Professor Steve Fothergill’s work with Christina Beatty on hidden unemployment and incapacity benefits has proved incredibly influential. The presentation highlighted that the claimant rate in Neath Port Talbot at 21.9% (figure accurate as of 2010) is the third highest in Wales and is among the top 20 districts in Britain.

David Rees AM said:
‘These are both very powerful reports and emphasise the dramatic effect that Welfare Reform will have on some of Wales’s poorest communities. Around 30,000 claimants look set to be pushed out of the benefits system altogether. Many of these will have few skills, little work experience, poor health, will be middle aged and will live in areas where there are already very few jobs. This will undoubtedly push many families into poverty. I hope this Cross Party Group will provide us with a forum to raise awareness of this very serious issue.’

Over the last two decades Professor Fothergill has occupied a pivotal role in efforts to regenerate Britain’s mining areas, for many years as Director of the Coalfield Communities Campaign, and latterly as Director of the Industrial Communities Alliance. Across Wales as a whole, 300,000 men and women of working age are out-of-work on benefits. More than 180,000 of these are on incapacity benefits. According to Professor Fothergill’s report, in Wales some 45,000 existing incapacity claimants look set to be denied Employment and Support Allowance by the new, tougher medical test and another 17,000 by new limits on the duration of non-means tested benefit. Around 30,000 of these claimants look set to be pushed out of the benefits system altogether.

David Rees AM added:
‘Wales has a proud industrial heritage which has shaped our history and our landscape. At the heart of this great legacy are the ordinary Welsh people of our industrial communities who were at the forefront of technology as the world moved from cottage industry to mass production industry. In the past 30 years, the UK’s manufacturing sector has shrunk by two-thirds; the greatest de-industrialisation of any major nation. This story cuts across many of the key debates in Welsh politics; from the breakdown of community spirit in many of these areas to lingering unemployment.’

The Cross Party Group on Industrial Communities is a non-partisan forum for ideas that will lead to practical policies that will help tackle the wide range of issues faced by industrial communities in today’s Wales. The Cross Party Group is chaired by David Rees AM and the cross party members are: Peter Black AM, William Graham AM, Leanne Wood AM.