|The beach at Lowestoft|
Having recently visited Clacton-on-Sea, which was one of the towns mentioned in that report, I am very surprised that the one influence identified by local people as the most important is missing from that report: the transfer of hundreds of people on benefits from inner London and other places where housing is expensive, following the changes to housing benefit.
I can see that towns on the coast are in a double-bind. They have been the recipients of many people who were evicted from their homes when housing benefit changed. They are suffering the effects on an influx of a lot of people without visible means of support except state benefits, who are a drain on the local economy. However, they need visitors to keep coming in the summer to make their traditional income, and therefore they cannot shout too loudly about the social problem which has been transported to their town. In any case, pointing an accusing finger at those unfortunate enough to have been displaced by the changes in housing benefit, is not an easy thing to do without being accused of being automatically prejudiced, by associating those who are unlucky enough to be unemployed with those who are involved in criminal behaviour.
The trouble is, the devil makes work for idle hands... and they can be very, very idle when transported to a bedsit or bed and breakfast room in a resort which is completely foreign to them. Children leaving care are another group who have been transported to these towns, because housing benefit is too low to allow them to continue living where they have been.
The people I spoke to when I visited last week were quite clear that the increasing deprivation in the town is the direct result of this migration. It is obvious that councils were desperately searching for unused capacity for the many people made homeless by the change in the law, who mostly came from London authorities, and they found that spare capacity in the bedsits and bed and breakfasts around our coast. Those people are wary of being quoted, for fearing of being accused of damaging the town's reputation among holidaymakers.
It is plainly obvious that if you take a whole lot of people who have lived their whole lives in London and then transport them to a seaside town, there will be a social consequence - for the people and for the towns. Clacton, Margate, Great Yarmouth, have all been in receipt of large numbers of people. I observe that crime levels in Lowestoft, part of the remarkably crime-free county of Suffolk, are at levels way above those found in my current home town of Uxbridge. In greater London. That's curious, and a new change.
I am less clear why this circumstance isn't better known, or better reported. The advent of gang warfare in the previously sleepy town of Great Yarmouth, the high level of crime, the high level of deprivation... I think there is more here than just the tendency of the English to migrate voluntarily to the coast on retirement. Local people know there is.