Visible decline in Yorkshire towns like Barnsley, Rotherham, Dewsbury and Halifax leaves them vulnerable to division, HOPE Not Hate report finds

Discontent in Yorkshire towns caused by shrinking populations and visible decline is feeding into hate and hostility, a major new report has found.

Dewsbury has done a lot to tackle racism, councillor Cathy Scott said. Pic: John Clifton

Coastal and post-industrial towns where many people feel there has been a departure in the "traditional way of life" are particularly vulnerable to feeling alienated from modern politics and becoming radicalised by the far-right.

The report from think tank HOPE Not Hate said immigration and multiculturalism has become a flashpoint for grievances caused by deeper feelings of alienation and a decline in local economies.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

It said this was true across England and Wales but Yorkshire was more prone to problems with racism and division than any other part of the country, apart from the West Midlands.

Within the region, the towns of Barnsley, Rotherham, Dewsbury and Halifax had the most factors which made them at risk, such as visible decline, migration in the community, and an aging and shrinking population.

Cathy Scott, a Labour councillor for Dewsbury East who won her seat in 2008 from the British National Party, said there had always been a far-right presence in the town “preying on people who have nothing” but that the community has worked hard to tackle it.

She said: “Dewsbury is not a racist place and we have to rise above it and tackle racism head-on.

“Dewsbury and Kirklees have come together beyond the far-right element and it is no longer breaking through.”

The research backed this up for Dewsbury and similar Yorkshire mill towns, which “remained curiously immune to the allure of UKIP in the mid-2010s”, the report said.

Coun. Scott called for the Government to replace lost funding in Kirklees and for people to “talk up” the town, saying: “We need to be thinking differently, spend our money locally and use our energy to give people a voice.”

The report said grooming gangs had stoked racial tensions in some areas, including Rotherham’s child sex abuse scandal.

While some communities had recovered from this, Rotherham “is still experiencing the political fallout from the scandal”.

Another area that stood out in the report was the east coast, including places like Scarborough and Bridlington, where English identity was very strong and where patriotism could easily be pushed over into nationalism.

Speaking to the Yorkshire Post, Rosie Carter, senior policy officer at HOPE Not Hate and a co-author of the report, said: “Many of Yorkshire’s towns are confident and optimistic places, with rich histories and strong identities, and most people are welcoming and open.

“But our research shows how a decline of industry in many Yorkshire towns feeds a sense of loss that can sometimes spill over into resentments or hostility towards newcomers or minorities.

“Building cohesive communities in Yorkshire, the spotlight has often been on the region’s diverse cities – Bradford, Leeds and Sheffield.

“While cities need support, cohesion in towns is often only prioritised when something has gone wrong. Lots of hard work is already being done to bring communities together, but deeper structural change and national investment is also needed to boost the resilience of Yorkshire’s towns; this is what will help places to prevent, resolve or minimise frictions and ensure that the people living there can thrive together.”

Lucy Mort, research fellow, think tank IPPR said the report chimed with similar research carried out in Yorkshire over the past few years.

She added: “It points to the need for local leadership and partnership working to address issues on the ground, but also to the need for macro-level policies that address community tensions through greater economic and social security for all.”

The Government has been contacted for a response.