Thursday 28 March 2019


Cornwall is a county you may well fall in love with when on holiday here - we did, in the late 70s shortly after we married. I even tried applying for teaching positions in the county but to no avail. Almost a quarter-century later, around 2002, I landed an interview for the post of Head of Religious Education at the Mullion secondary school in Cornwall - but it was not to be. I remember the long train journey back to East Anglia, knowing that the next day I would resume my life at Copleston High School in Ipswich and that, in effect, would be my locus as a teacher for the next seven years until I reached the retirement age of 60.

Just over a decade later in January 2013, after three grinding years of failing to find a purchaser for our Reydon converted barn, we completed our sale and Louise and I arrived at last as residents in Cornwall. Hopefully we will spend the rest of our lives here. It is a different kind of experience living and working in Cornwall as a writer and a politically engaged person from simply being here as a visitor. When I think back to the holidays we spent in the region of the Fowey estuary and the delights of the Hall Walk, or in Polperro, or in Tintagel, or here in St Ives, so many extraordinary and breath-taking vistas come to mind. Cornwall has such stunning landscapes and sea views. As a local, it takes discipline to break from the work routines to savour fully such delights. But they remain there for the taking.

St Michael's Mount, off-shore from Marazion - rising from the waters of the bay 

Yet beneath the tourist surface, there is another reality and that is the focus for this post.

First, the national context:

Earlier this year, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JFR) released their report on poverty in the UK in 2018. 14.3 million people in Britain were living in poverty. 8 million of these people (56%) are living in a family with at least one working adult. 4.1 million (29%) are children and 1.9 million (13%) are

pensioners. Child poverty has been rising since 2011-12 and the number of children in poverty has increased by half a million in the last five years. The JFR reported that in-work poverty is rising faster than the rise in employment. What kind of success is it when the fall in the number of those unemployed means that increasing numbers of people in poverty are in families where at least one person has a job?

Poverty in the UK

And in Cornwall?

The Cornish economy is reliant on seasonal tourism, resulting in more part-time and seasonal work being available than the national average. Low wages and underemployment makes Cornwall one of the UK's poorest counties. Seventeen of Cornwall's neighbourhoods are amongst the most deprived in England - within the poorest 10%. That's an increase of 5 neighbourhoods in the last five years. Cornwall ranks 2nd of 6 listed areas identified as being among the poorest in northern Europe.

What does this mean for a significant number of people living in Cornwall?

  • Cornwall's annual economic output in 2014 was around £9.5 billion. Personal debt in Cornwall is estimated at £14 billion. 
  • The Cornish average weekly household income is £643. The UK average is £766. 
  • In Cornwall, there are over 34,000 households facing 'fuel poverty', meaning that they need to spend more than 10% of their income on heating their home to an adequate standard of warmth.
  • Nearly 40,000 (17%) of households in Cornwall are without their own transport in a county where 82% of those surveyed consider there is insufficient public transportation for commuting and access to services.
  • Nearly a fifth of Cornish children are living in poverty.
  • Just over a fifth of adult people in Cornwall have no formal qualifications.

Foodbank - a slice of Cornish life

Many people living in the most deprived areas of Cornwall - the china clay districts, the former tin-mining areas of Camborne and Redruth, west Penwith and Bodmin, to name some but by no means all of these places - survive on low income from work in care, hospitality, retail and catering. They may well depend on precarious temporary and seasonal work. The data indicates that they more frequently suffer from physical and mental health conditions - and are likely to rely on benefits and when they fail, on food banks. 

Nationally, food banks have seen a 13% increase in their usage since the introduction of Universal Credit (UC), the Conservative government's flagship measure to reform the welfare system. In Cornwall, the use of foodbanks has doubled. 

A reminder that the heir to the UK throne has land in Cornwall and a wife with a Cornish title - another slice of Cornish life

My understanding of what is happening in Cornwall, under the tourist surface, developed exponentially when I attended a public meeting in St Ives on Universal Credit in January this year (12.01.19) that had been called by our local Constituency Labour Party. The speakers were Paul Farmer, Labour's prospective parliamentary candidate for Camborne, Redruth and Hayle and Wailim Wong of Citizens Advice. Thank you Wailim for the data I've used in this post.  

How has it come to this in Cornwall and in the wider nation? What can be done?

Demonstration in Penzance - July 2016 - in support of the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn

If I may, I would like to recommend another look at my already published thoughts - or even a first-time read - by pressing these links:

  • For 'The cost of Tory misgovernment since 2010 - press here.  
  • For 'Optimism over Despair' - press here
  • For 'What is Jeremy Corbyn thinking' - press here.

The vision of a socialism fit for the 21st century has led to the Labour Party's membership topping half-a-million people. That mass membership provided the foundation for the election of Jeremy Corbyn as the leader of the Labour Party in 2015. It continues to ensure that he remains as the leader. Many of  those who are powerful and wealthy are very worried indeed at the prospect of a General Election emerging from the present Brexit crisis. The latest Survation poll of voting intentions puts Labour ahead of the Tories by 5 percentage points; other polls show a small Conservative lead. A General Election is a time of maximum vulnerability for those who fear losing control and the power of a moral vision.   

Checking my statistics, I discover that I have produced 40 'Road to Corbyn' posts since January 2016 when we - Steve McIntosh and I - launched this website. That is 40 out of the total of 155 I have composed in just over three years - over a quarter. That feels good! To see, on the website, the page that contains the full list - press here. Part of my Cornish contribution to the struggle by the many - against the few - for the good of all.


1 comment:

  1. And the second homes? pricing the locals out of the housing market?