Issues affecting elderly people in coastal towns like Scarborough are too often overlooked - Andrew Vine
Many make the move, especially when they retire. When I lived and worked in Scarborough and Bridlington, it became very familiar to meet new neighbours who had relocated in their 60s from Leeds, Bradford or Sheffield because the pull of the coast they had loved visiting all their lives was so strong.
But the dream didn’t always turn out how they had hoped. I knew quite a few whose retirements were blighted by illness which wasn’t helped by health and social services that frankly weren’t as good as those in the big cities they had left behind.
That is still the case according to England’s chief medical officer, Sir Chris Whitty.
In his annual report published at the end of last week, he highlights the problems experienced by older people in coastal and rural areas, and cites Scarborough as an example.
He concluded that there is a lack of provision for them in health, transport and housing.
Sir Chris pointed out that as people grow older, they need more help and because they aren’t getting enough of it in our countryside and at our coast, they’re becoming sicker faster than their counterparts in urban areas.
And he called for action to address this, particularly in the support available for people to live independently and safely in their own homes as the years progress.
It is an urgent issue because by the middle of the century a quarter of the population will be over 65, yet the overwhelming majority of housing is designed for younger people with children.
Sir Chris ought to be listened to by ministers and his concerns acted upon, because his report is further confirmation of what we in Yorkshire know all too well – that our rural and coastal communities have for far too long been neglected by government.
They are always at the back of the queue when it comes to funding, and get overlooked in favour of cities and bigger towns in terms of investment.
Health and social services are more thinly spread than in urban areas, and public transport is often either sparse or non-existent. The consequences for too many older people are chronic illness and isolation.
Year after year, whenever an index of social deprivation is published, coastal towns always feature prominently.
The crowds of holidaymakers that pack Scarborough, Bridlington and Whitby, or the picturesque towns of the Dales, in the summer months disguise an unpalatable reality – that behind the bustle there is poverty, the elderly not getting the help they need and often a lack of opportunities for the young.
This is a failure of public policy that has been allowed to continue for decades, overlooked by ministers more concerned with shoring up electoral support in urban areas.
For proof of that, we need only look to a recent report from the Commons Public Accounts Committee which called for a targeted strategy to boost the economy of rural areas.
That echoed what council leaders, businesses and residents in Yorkshire’s countryside have been urging for years, yet it was dismissed by the Government.
And in July, it also chose to ignore a report from the House of Lords Liaison Committee, which found that nothing was being done to tackle entrenched economic problems in seaside communities.
This is yet another failure of levelling up. That discredited initiative by the Government always carried with it the implication that regeneration was principally aimed at urban areas which had suffered long-term decline after the collapse of traditional industries like coal and steel.
Even before it became clear that levelling up was just an empty slogan with no funds to back it up, it was not setting out any useful plans to boost seaside towns at the end of a road and railway line or the rural communities in the Dales, the North Yorkshire Moors or the East Yorkshire Wolds.
The intervention of such a widely-respected figure as Sir Chris Whitty should concentrate minds in both the major parties as they vie to form the next government.
It is completely unacceptable that the residents of the coast or countryside should have to put up with poorer public services than those living an hour’s drive away in West or South Yorkshire.
And it is shameful that older people are suffering as a result, with nothing being done about it