Monday, 18 July 2011

Poverty in Bradford

Improved media coverage of international affairs means poor people no longer see themselves as living in poverty. So says one of the authors of a new study on the impact of poverty on different ethnic communities in Bradford.

Exploring experiences of poverty in Bradford also found few poor people hold out much hope for the future with many worried that rising food and fuel prices will, with few jobs available, make surviving on benefits almost impossible.

Surprisingly the research, funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation [JRF] found no evidence of racial discrimination by employers’. This is despite higher unemployment levels in black and ethnic minority communities, with the Manningham and Bowling/Barkerend mainly Asian neighbourhoods both having a rate of 8.9% claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance whereas the Bradford average as a whole is 5%.

The research concentrated on three communities. The Bangladeshi community in Bradford is often overlooked in a city where the vast majority of people with roots in the Asian sub-continent are from the Mirpur district of Pakistan. Afro-Caribbean and African’s have lived in Bradford for many years but the demolition of housing in the Newby area of West Bowling more than two decades ago now means many feel isolated in different parts of Bradford. Meanwhile the Ravenscliffe estate on the edge of the City has very few black people and is notoriously known for its high levels of anti-social behaviour and crime.

Many interviewees, although aware they were amongst the UK’s poorest disputed they were living in poverty according to one of the report’s authors, Mike Quiggan of the Bradford Resource Centre. This is last of what was back in the 70s a national network of campaigning centres whose local authority funding often-created tensions when they tried to obtain radical social change. 

But there were few shared cross-cultural sympathies, with many in the black and white communities feeling the Asian community monopolised any regeneration funds.

The study found little evidence of people not wanting work. The Bangladeshi community expressed concern about being dependent on the restaurant trade for jobs, where pay rates and job security are low. Ravenscliffe residents felt that disclosing to a potential employer where you lived would ensure you remained unemployed.

For all, previous reasonably well paid secure jobs had meant there was a real pride in having enough money to allow children to go on school trips and enjoy small treats from the local shops. An inability to provide these things now are; “what hurts people the most” says Mike.

It’s a pain the report notes is increasing. People complained that benefit levels are static and yet staple foods and fuel are increasing at 8% per annum. “I don’t think people are starving, but they may well start to shortly. Death rates will jump, life expectancy levels will decline.”

We must start to introduce policies to deal with this and I make no apologies for arguing against any that could further increase the massive inequalities level in this country, especially in a place like Bradford where the government’s figures on deprivation levels show that the gap between rich and poor is bigger than anywhere else” said Mike sadly.

Although the city centre regeneration, which was put on hold four years ago, is to restart, interviewees expected most jobs to be taken by skilled people from outside the Bradford rather than local people.

Major regeneration projects were viewed sceptically. Residents preferred local solutions. The Caribbean community want a local centre to organise from, Bangladeshi’s would like more English classes whilst those from Ravenscliffe want to see their estate done up by local youths learning ‘on the job’ skills that can then be transported elsewhere. Nobody however felt the authorities were listening. 

Mike Quiggan is optimistic the report itself is accurate but with “no Bengali or Caribbean person saying they hadn’t found work because of their skin colour” he’d like to find out if this is really the case. He suspects the comments made to me by the owner of a Bradford firm with 50 plus employees that he “knows plenty like myself who won’t employ Asians” is not untypical and he and the JRF are now planning to investigate further.

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