Sussex Uncovered: An eye-opening insight into widespread levels of poverty and inequality

Sussex Uncovered is published by Sussex Community Giving
Sussex Uncovered is published by Sussex Community Giving

When I came down to Brighton from Liverpool nearly 40 years ago, I expected, if not a land of milk and honey, the nearest equivalent.

When I came down to Brighton from Liverpool nearly 40 years ago, I expected, if not a land of milk and honey, the nearest equivalent: low unemployment, high wages, and a region where poverty barely existed.

As the Sussex Uncovered report from the Sussex Community Foundation shows, I could not have been more wrong. Our coastal towns have large areas of deprivation. Housing for the poor is all but non-existent.

Sussex Community Foundation (SCF) was founded in 2006 and undertook to manage or raise funds from a variety of different trusts and funds within Sussex such as the Hans and Marit Rausing Trust and the Cullum family. It administers funds for groups such as Comic Relief. The groups it has helped fund include the Hastings and Rother Credit Union, Brighton and Hove Unwaged Advice and Rights Centre, and Reaching Families, a parent-led support group offering support to the parents and carers of children with disabilities and special needs in West Sussex.

SCF has raised, since 2006, some £12m - of which £6m has been put in an endowment fund for future use. Its grants are usually no more than £5,000 a year, which means that it funds the host of small and voluntary groups that get overwhelmed by the slick professional fundraising of the larger charities.

Many of the Sussex Uncovered findings will be eye-opening. Many areas of Sussex are in the 5% most deprived areas in the United Kingdom according to the 2010 Index of Multiple Deprivation. The same areas of Brighton and Hove, Littlehampton and Hastings turn up repeatedly - as do parts of Hailsham and Eastbourne.

Hastings - home of Robert Tressell, author of The Ragged-Trouserted Philanthropists - ranks as the 20th most-deprived district in England.

The wages in Sussex are lower than the southeastt average. This should be no surprise. Brighton has seen de-industrialisation on a grand scale. Whereas there used to be 10,000 engineering workers (Gross Cash Registers, Alan West), it is now mainly a service economy: coffee houses, restaurants and light industry. One of the major areas of employment, the public sector, is being cut to the bone.

While most deprivation is centred in coastal towns, there are pockets of deprivation in Rye and Hailsham. Deprived people are often isolated and the majority of those claiming benefits do not live in deprived areas. Deprivation can result in a lower life-expectancy of about 10 years.

Unsurprisingly, there is a high level of homelessness in Brighton and Hove, and in Crawley, in particular.

When I first came down to Brighton, I squatted in empty buildings with none other than the Lord Bassam. Since then, the only contribution to the issue of homelessness of Mike Weatherley, Hove’s MP and former property dealer, is to outlaw squatting in residential properties, regardless of how long they have been empty; proposals are afoot to extend this to commercial properties.

This is - and already has - meant that people, mainly teenagers, are going to die from hypothermia, since the needs of property are considered more important than human beings, despite buildings being kept empty because it is more profitable than to let them.

The rural poor, who are better hidden, face a double disadvantage in that there are few or no facilities; transport is poor and where it does exist it is expensive.

Of those employed in Hastings, some 41% are employed in the public sector, the 18th-highest district nationally.

Brighton and Hove has the universities, but public employment is high. What I have always found surprising is how many people live in places like Steyning and Goring, where housing is cheaper, but commute to Brighton to work.

Where the Sussex Uncovered report is weak is on recommendations. One of the failures of charities is that they can often be very good at dealing with the symptoms of poverty, but - like religion - are afraid to propose how it should be overcome. That is political.

For example, it seems obvious that in areas with high homelessness there should be a statutory bar to owning a second home. But as long as the god is free market then this will not happen.

According to East Sussex County Council's "East Sussex in Figures", three-quarters of districts classed as areas of deprivation had a worse ranking than in 2007. Hastings, Brighton and Hove, and Eastbourne are the most overall deprived areas within Sussex.

The proportion of elderly people in Hastings is 23%; in Brighton and Hove, it is 22%. There is a very high proportion of the elderly living alone or in poverty.

Child poverty is something the last government promised to eradicate. Under welfare reform, it has come back with a vengeance. No less than 31% of households in Hastings - and 23% of Brighton and Hove, and Eastbourne - have children living in poverty. In Hasting’s Tressell Ward, the proprotion hits 67% in soem areas; in parts of Brighton and Hove, it is 66%.

Arun has the highest level deprivation in terms of house-affordability, followed by Brighton and Hove.

Britain is one of the richest countries in the world, but it is also becoming one of the most unequal.

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