Blackpool's Towering Problems
Blackpool (Credit: eye35 / Alamy Stock Photo)
Blackpool suffers from the lowest life expectancy at birth among both men and women, research by the
Health Foundation shows. While the average national life expectancy sits at 83 for women and 79 for men, the corresponding figures for Blackpool are 55 for women and 54 for men.
Blackpool residents are saddened by these statistics, but not surprised. Richard Blackburn is a director at Ormrods Continuing Healthcare, a service helping people receive care funding in Lancashire. “We’ve seen this coming for years in Blackpool, with deprivation, health, substance abuse and education issues – the whole thing,” he says. “That’s not to say the agencies, staff, teachers and nurses don’t work; they do. But it’s just a seaside resort where most industries have disappeared.”
Blackpool experiences many of the same interlinking problems as other coastal communities. For instance, towns on the coast tend to attract seasonal workers employed at lower wages. Younger, healthier people often leave coastal towns for higher-paid jobs inland, while an older demographic, more vulnerable to health problems, move in. The abundance of low-rent houses in multiple occupation attracts those with existing financial and health problems, and recruiting NHS staff or social care workers is a constant challenge.
In his 2021 annual report, Health in Coastal Communities, chief medical officer Chris Whitty responded with an ultimatum: “If we do not tackle the health problems of coastal communities vigorously and systematically there will be a long tail of preventable ill health which will get worse as current populations age.”
However, with Blackpool already suffering from chronic economic deprivation, recent cuts to public health funding have only made matters worse, says David Finch, assistant director at the Health Foundation. “Blackpool is one of the areas that has had one of the biggest cuts on a per capita basis compared to other local areas in the country since 2015,” he says.
Finch criticises the methods used by the Department of Health and Social Care to cut the grant for public health: by reducing funding nationwide instead of cutting proportionately based on the local authorities who need most help. The cure for Blackpool’s problems, Finch believes, is for the government to turn discussions about levelling up into reality. “Blackpool has been a key reference point for the government’s levelling up ambitions. You would hope levelling up policies present an opportunity for Blackpool to secure further investment in the future,” he says.
For now, local charities and community groups in Blackpool are tackling the various issues that contribute to low life expectancy. For example, Project ADDER aims to reduce drug-related deaths; the My Blackpool Home programme aims to improve the standard of homes in the area; and the Blackpool Better Start initiative has invested £45m into improving the life chances of babies and young children in the town since being founded 10 years ago.
Despite the challenges Blackpool faces, Blackburn is unwavering in his optimism for the future. “Blackpool is a great place with some lovely people living here. They call themselves, ‘Sand grown ’uns’, because they’re grown from the sand. Where you’ve got masses of pride in the place you live, there’s always hope.” coastal communities.
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