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Communities First needs to work more effectively with others to make a difference in deprived areas

Wales’ flagship regeneration programme, Communities First, needs to work better with other regeneration initiatives to meet the wider outcomes needed to improve the conditions of people living in the most deprived neighbourhoods in Wales, according to a new report out today from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF).

Regenerating Communities Firs Neighbourhoods in Wales, by a team from the University of Manchester, examines the progress made between 2001 and 2008 in regenerating Communities First areas in Wales. Communities First, which was launched in 2001 by the first assembly government, aimed to improve the conditions and prospects of people living in the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods in Wales. Using a range of key indicators including economic, population and housing changes, the research compares Communities First neighbourhoods with similarly deprived areas in Wales.

Katharine Knox, Programme Manager for the JRF, said: "Previous research has shown that the Communities First programme has had some success in promoting community involvement and empowering residents within deprived neighbourhoods.However, this project shows that while these neighbourhoods have benefited from population gains and increased house prices in recent years, unemployment is still a concern and the current economic climate risks undermining any gains made."

The research suggests that between 2001 and 2008 some conditions have improved in Communities First areas, but, in comparison to similar deprived neighbourhoods, the gains have been relatively marginal:

  • Between 2001 and 2008 the mean population increased in both Communities First and similar deprived areas by 1.5 per cent and 2.4 per cent respectively.
  • From 2001 to 2008 mean house prices increased in Communities First areas by over £50,000 compared to £43,000 in similar neighbourhoods, which may be seen as an indication of improved housing demand in these areas.
  • Both Communities First and similar neighbourhoods experienced a decline in the economically inactive working population but alongside this an increase in working-age JSA claimants. However, the mean increase in JSA claimants was significantly higher for Communities First neighbourhoods at 1.3 per cent compared to other deprived neighbourhoods at just 0.3 per cent.
  • Overall, Communities First areas had slightly higher levels of unemployment compared to their peers in both 2001 and 2008. However, the mean increase in the percentage of the unemployed working-age population was significantly less in Communities First areas than similar neighbourhoods.

The report also examined the different types of Communities First Neighbourhoods, which fall into the following categories:

  • Escalator - the in-movers come from similar or more deprived areas and the out-movers go to
  • Gentrifier - in-movers coming from less deprived areas and out-movers going to similar or more deprived locations;
  • Isolate - these neighbourhoods tend to have less inward or outward migration links to other less deprived areas; and
  • Transit - most in and out-movers come from and go to less deprived areas.

Of the four neighbourhood types, Gentrifier areas were the only neighbourhoods to make any improvement between 2001 and 2008, while Isolate areas seem to have worsened in comparison to the other neighbourhood types. Overall, the research shows that Communities First 'Gentrifier and Transit' neighbourhoods have improved significantly compared to 'Isolate and Escalator' neighbourhoods, and the gap between the two 'groups' has widened between 2001 and 2008.

Stephen Hincks, report author, said: "The critical factor underlying the picture of neighbourhood change is the composition of the population. Where younger populations with higher skills move in and where there is a mix of housing tenures available, we can see positive changes in the socio-economic circumstances of the neighbourhood. The danger now is that areas which have seen progress in the period up to 2008 may suffer as job losses and public sector spending cuts affect the economy. The Communities First initiative will need to link up more effectively to other programmes to ensure these neighbourhoods are supported in these difficult times."

 

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