The Guardian - 4 Mar 05

Prof. Robert B. Laughlin
Department of Physics
Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305
(Copied 26 May 09)

Hidden Legacy of Pit Closures

20 Years After the Miners' Strike, Report Reveals Scale of Job Losses

Peter Hetherington, Regional Affairs Editor
Friday 4 March 2005

Unemployment in the former coalfields of England and Wales is more than three times as high as official jobless figures suggest, according to a detailed study of the fallout from the massive run-down of the mining industry.

Demolishing the myth that the government's much-vaunted economic stability has brought virtually full employment to the country, research published today shows that 201,000 men and 135,000 women have fallen outside official jobless statistics in the former coalfields.

The official figures show that just 67,000 are out of work and give a "wholly misleading view" of the strength of the local labour market because of considerable hidden unemployment, says the report, compiled by a team from Sheffield Hallam University.

Exactly 20 years after the end of the year-long miners' strike, which heralded a scale of job losses unprecedented in British industry over such a relatively short time, the study shows that "real" joblessness among men in 13 former coalfields is more than 11% - while claimant unemployment is only 3.5%.

Many of those who do not appear in the official statistics were originally diverted on to incapacity benefit to keep jobless figures down.

The research puts the south Wales, Durham and Northumberland coalfields at the top of the jobless league with more than 13% of men out of work.

But the team acknowledges that substantial progress has been made in creating new work, with 60% of the lost coal jobs replaced by new employment for men - although new jobs for women are proving more elusive. Many women in mining areas became the sole breadwinners for their families after the pit closures.

Acknowledging that the government had made great strides in attacking the consequences of job destruction in old industries, team leader Professor Steve Fothergill said it had made "no inroads at all" in bringing older men in the coalfields back into work. "There is a cohort ... so far removed from the labour market that they are not retrievable," he warned. "The real challenge is to make sure the generation behind them does not follow the same trajectory."

Nevertheless, the research showed the old coalfields were "over halfway" to recovery. "Although this is a creditable achievement, the fact that 20 years after the strike there is still a long way to go is a sad reflection on the scale of the mining losses inflicted on these communities," Prof Fothergill added.

Since the strike, the number of miners has fallen from 170,000 (in 170 pits) to 4,000 today in eight collieries, "arguably the definitive example of de-industrialisation ... in western Europe in its speed and scale ", the report said.

Prof Fothergill and his team began their studies because they were mystified by official figures showing that between 1981 and 2004 the big loss of coal jobs - 222,000 overall in mining and related activities - coincided with a substantial reduction in recorded unemployment. "This is not what might have been expected in some areas of acute job loss and at first sight could be taken to indicate exceptionally successful adaptation," the report dryly notes.

In this 23-year period, researchers found that 162,500 men were forced out of work, equivalent to one in nine of the male population in the coalfields aged between 16 and 64.

The report estimated that overall, 100,000 men in the English and Welsh coalfields were diverted from unemployment on to incapacity benefit, double the number of men officially classed as unemployed and claiming benefit.

Prof Fothergill acknowledges that Whitehall departments such as the Treasury argue that the large numbers involved should not be classed as unemployed because they are not technically looking for work. But he insists that such arguments are misleading because they would have found work "in a fully employed economy".

Significantly, before the pit closures far fewer men in the coalfields claimed these benefits and underlying health problems, far from worsening, had shown an improvement.