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Centre for Regeneration Excellence Wales sponsorship feature

Back to an uncertain future

Dave Adamson provides an update from CREW.

Anyone who has spoken to me in the last few weeks would have found me pretty despondent about the wider context of regeneration in Wales. Having worked in the field of poverty and social exclusion for some twenty years, we have always been able to make some key assumptions about the role of the state and the responsibility it takes for its poorer citizens. Although historically inadequate, and themselves a contributor to poverty levels, welfare benefits have since Beveridge protected people against the extremes of poverty evident in the 1930s and before.

In the light of an increasingly aggressive attack on benefits by the current Westminster Government and a slew of wider reforms that roll back the state to pre-Beveridge levels of provision, these assumptions are no longer valid. To the previously announced welfare reforms, we can now potentially add a freeze on benefit increases for two years and a permanent de-linking of benefit levels from the rate of inflation. In the wider arena, hard-won employment protection rights are being eroded, a process that inevitably affects the lower levels of the labour market rather than the professional sectors. If we also add educational reforms that take us back to the ‘one chance only’ model of the O-Level, we potentially close the already poorly accessed route out of poverty for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

In the housing field the implications of benefit reform are now being accurately modelled by registered social landlords and the sense of crisis is gathering pace. Loss of income from under-occupancy rules, possible loss of housing benefit for under-25s and higher debt levels from direct, monthly payment of Universal Credit loom large on the horizon as key challenges to the very business model of social housing. The clear correlation between social housing and financial poverty suggests it is the housing field which will bear the brunt of benefit reform and be the first service area to be overwhelmed by a rising tide of poverty. Conversations with those working in the field already suggest unprecedented levels of household poverty witnessed by the growth of food banks in areas previously not thought to be stressed by poverty.

Current UK government policies are reversing the gains of over half a century and creating the perfect conditions for mass patterns of social exclusion. In Wales, we have only survived existing high levels of social exclusion by the normalisation of poverty in the cultures of our poor communities and a general acceptance of a low quality of life by the poor. Sadly, given the background of austerity-based legitimation of reform, the government has distanced the wider population from any sympathy with benefit claimants and changes are made in the name of ‘fairness’ for those who work. The perfect excuse has been created for the long-term neo-liberal project to destroy the welfare state.

Denial of benefits to 16-18 year olds in the mid 1980s created a cohort of young men rejected for good financial reasons by their families and rehoused in the flats on our then difficult-to-let housing estates. The result was family breakdown, a tide of car crime and burglary and the disruption of our housing communities by anti-social behaviour. Predicting the social consequences of the current range of benefit reforms is confounded by their scale, depth and complexity.

In these circumstances integrated, sustainable regeneration becomes even more important and CREW will continue to work with practitioners in all fields to share good practice and develop more effective models of intervention.

The major event in the regeneration calendar is the Wales National Regeneration Summit which this year takes place on 15 November 2012 at Plas Morlais, Colwyn Bay. On the evening prior to the conference, Action for Market towns will host its Wales Region awards and CREW will host a breakfast forum with its Small Towns Network on the morning of the conference. Full conference details and registration are at: https://registration.livegroup.co.uk/regenerationsummit2012.

CREW will also very shortly be announcing a programme of events which reflect current interests in meanwhile uses of empty premises. We are also in the process of redesigning our website (http://regenwales.org). For both staffing and technical reasons, we have been unable to regularly update the current website and we will ensure that the new site will be far more regularly updated. It will be launched in October 2012 with a new range of resources and articles to inform regeneration practice in Wales.

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