NORTH-East coalfield communities continue to be blighted by deprivation, ill health and unemployment, an independent report has found.

The State of the Coalfields study paints a grim picture for the 599,000 people who live in County Durham's former pit towns and villages.

The report noted that 8.6 per cent of residents in the communities had bad or very bad health, compared to a national average of 5.6 per cent.

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The percentage of people who claimed disability living allowance was also higher in these areas - 8.2 per cent compared to 5.4 per cent across Britain.

The report, carried out by Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research at Sheffield Hallam University and commissioned by the Coalfields Regeneration Trust, found there were fewer jobs in all 12 mining areas examined, including those in County Durham.

Figures showed there were just 48 jobs for every 100 working age residents in the county's mining areas in 2012. The national average is 67.

The communities' employment rate of 71 per cent was below the England and Wales average of 76 per cent, while the number of people claiming unemployment benefits was 15.8 per cent, compared to a national average of 10.9 per cent.

Professor Steve Fothergill, who led the research, said: “The pit closures may now be receding into history, but the job losses that followed are still a serious and contributing factor to the economic reality for most mining communities.

“The consequences are still all too visible in statistics on jobs, unemployment, benefits and ill health. The coalfields communities are seriously adrift of the national average.

“The job losses of the 1980s and 90s still cast a very long shadow."

Peter McNestry, chair of the Coalfields Regeneration Trust, said the tough reality for coalfields residents was that these problems would not go away overnight.

He added: “We have worked for 15 years to support these communities and to provide them with access to the resources, practical advice and funding that they need to help themselves.

"We have come some way to improving the situation in the coalfields but this report proves there is still a great deal of work to be done."

The report concluded that there was a compelling case for continued support and access to funding for coalfield communities.

It added that regeneration did work, noting that there was substantial growth in employment in other sectors of the coalfield economy, at least up to the start of the recession in 2008.