Sunday, 1 December 2013

'Vital Signs' and Vital Challenges in Berkshire

Berkshire Community Foundation recently published its 'Vital Signs' report.

The report 'measures the vitality and aspirations of our communities, identifies significant trends, and identifies social priorities critical to quality of life'.

This is a summary of the headlines:
  • Work and Local Economy - While earnings and productivity are high, unemployment in parts of Berkshire is a significant issue.
  • Getting Started in Berkshire - Immigration has increased across the county – especially in Slough and Reading.
  • The Gap between Rich and Poor - Berkshire’s overall affluence masks significant levels of local deprivation.
  • Housing and Homelessness - Berkshire is one of the least affordable areas in the UK in which to live.
  • Crime and Safety - Civil society organisations can play a key role in diverting young people from crime and anti-social behaviour.
  • Education - Although Berkshire performs well overall, some deprived urban areas show cause for concern.
  • Arts and Culture - Berkshire residents are very satisfied with their cultural amenities, though access for vulnerable groups is an issue.
  • Communities - Residents generally feel that Berkshire is a strong community, though isolation is an issue for some groups.
  • Environment - While Berkshire has some enviable rural countryside, its urban areas have a number of environmental issues.
  • Health and Well Being - Overall, Berkshire is a healthier place to live than most areas, though obesity and smoking remain issues of some concern.
  • Civil Society Organisations - Public spending cuts and the current economic climate are taking their toll on civil society organisations, curtailing many much needed services.
  • Young People - Many young people in isolated rural communities or pockets of urban deprivation face very challenging conditions. 
Of particular interest to Aldermaston ward residents are statistics relating to the quality of life in West Berkshire. Here some striking points are worth noting.

West Berkshire records the highest priority level for action on two counts: 'Economic change' and 'Housing affordability'. In addition the area struggles from weak scores on 'Connectivity' and 'Amenities'. On almost all social and environmental measures West Berkshire also falls below average for the county.

The report states:
"taking county wide statistics and indicators at face-value, it would be easy to conclude that Berkshire was doing well. In many instances this is true and should be celebrated. However, in other areas, county wide statistics mask strong variations in the fortunes and experiences of people in neighbouring urban and rural areas across the county."
Although Berkshire's economy is among the most vibrant nationwide, local data offers evidence of 'stark inequality', where "the level of deprivation of specific neighbourhoods in Berkshire equals, or exceeds, those in the most challenged wards in the country."

And while urban communities - such as Newbury - tend to suffer visible signs of deprivation, the degree of rural isolation resulting from 'lack of access to services, opportunities, amenities and subsequent social isolation exacerbated by poor public transport' is a major cause of economic disadvantatage in Aldermaston ward and West Berkshire, particularly for future generations.

The report concludes that economic inequality, or 'The Gap Between Rich And Poor', is a major problem in Berkshire with 'urgent cross-sector action required to reengage young people'.

You can read the full report here: [Berkshire Vital Signs 2013]

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