There is a lot of talk and writing from every corner of every sector on Left Behind Neighbourhoods. Put simply, these are areas where there is a distinct lack of connectivity, cohesion and employment. Put technically, these are areas which display a range of negative outcomes which means they sit in the top 20 on an Index of Multiple Deprivation. Whilst Left Behind Neighbourhoods is a piece of new terminology, the issues certainly aren’t. I have been around the Community Development Agenda for 30 years, and have seen the same areas sit within the same index despite numerous initiatives and resources being thrown at the problems. And that could well be a factor.
Central Government are in the process of doing this again. We now have the New Towns Fund, the High Street Futures Fund and the Shared Prosperity Fund. We have a raft of new terminology in Left Behind Neighbourhoods, Levelling Up Communities and Building Back Better. But what does it all mean?
First of all there are no Quick Wins to be had, yet we live in a world where Quick Wins seems to be important. Rather than attempting to sustainably turn around some of the age old generational issues we see in Left Behind Neighbourhoods, of which not being far from Poverty is certainly one, the focus appears to be on short term initiatives with short term funding. You cannot address structural and societal issues in this way. It does not work. Nor can you address economic fragility, which essentially means more people than ever are likely to be closer to a perceived poverty line, relative or absolute.
A One Size Fits All approach is also a recipe for failure: Each of these Left Behind Neighbourhoods has a distinct landscape, context and a set of circumstances: Shoe horning a particular short term fund into these areas without a robust and solid understanding of the causal factors which exist there is a recipe for inertia, tempting though it is to do so.
For me, local Policy Makers need to have a clear understanding of what success might look like. Connection exists within deprivation, so where Policies and Activities interact is an excellent starting point.
More should be done to connect data. Central and Local Government hold plenty, but so too does the Voluntary Sector, and more thought should be exercised in conjoining this data so that it works for communities.
There also needs to be a greater understanding of how to target resources, and those resources need to be for longer to ensure the right social impacts are achieved, and in that, communities need to have their voice heard and understood. What Poverty is or might be is incredibly subjective, but the constant drive to define Poverty does not help, even though I understand why people feel they need to do it when resources are thin on the ground.
There are no easy answers and never have been. Left Behind Neighbourhoods require concerted and sustained effort from every sector. There is good practice out there: Pieces of work which show beyond doubt that a coming together of thought, process and action achieves results. I am interested to see how the Poverty Truth Commission plays out in real time. What is clear though is that the more stories we achieve, and the more that people tell their stories of what Poverty means to them will undoubtedly provide a context from which to begin.
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