A BARNSLEY MP has welcomed an inquiry which is set to delve into inequalities experienced by local residents - after it was revealed the town’s foodbank, fuel poverty and benefit claimant figures have rocketed.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Coalfield Communities hopes to find out if job losses from the coal industry have been fully replaced, if pollution from mines has been rectified and if the needs of former miners are being met.
Although progress has been made to regenerate former coalfield communities, they still lag behind on most indicators of prosperity and wellbeing, MPs believe, and the government’s promise to ‘level up’ towns such as Barnsley have failed to come to fruition.
Geographical inequalities - which have left places such as Barnsley much more vulnerable during the current cost-of-living crisis - have been laid bare in a report which ranks the borough among the country’s hardest-hit areas.
The report compiled by think-tank Centre for Progressive Policy suggests the soaring costs of energy, fuel and food are set to drive a further wedge between more deprived communities in the north and those in affluent southern areas.
Barnsley ranks among the top ten per cent of England’s 333 local authorities based on six indicators of deprivation - including the percentage of households in fuel poverty and Universal Credit claimants - with more people at risk of being pulled into poverty.
Dan Jarvis, who represents Barnsley Central, praised the inquiry’s ethos and hopes to see tangible benefits being brought about as a result when its findings are published in the spring.
He told the Chronicle: “The failure of successive governments to properly invest in the north, to reduce regional inequality and to, more recently, ‘level up’ communities, is nothing short of a national scandal.
“Our region is brimming with talent and potential, but we need a long-term programme of investment into our regional economies; jobs, health, education, skills, transport, infrastructure and culture.
“It was enormously frustrating as South Yorkshire Mayor to see both the challenges and the opportunities we faced, but not to have the resources required to deliver transformative change.
“I welcome this inquiry which will further shine the spotlight on the disproportionate deprivation in the north.
“I hope the government finally listen to ensure levelling up funding is properly targeted to meet the needs of our communities in Yorkshire, but I’m not holding my breath.”
More than 26,000 Barnsley residents are claiming Universal Credit, 55 per cent of homes have poor energy efficiency ratings - meaning they are more costly to heat - and foodbank use is higher than ever.
The Trussell Trust, which operates the UK’s largest foodbank network, says a ‘tsunami of need’ is gripping the UK as demand has outstripped donations for the first time.
The latest figures from the charity, which runs 13 foodbanks in Barnsley, shows that 4,364 parcels were handed out to residents from April to September.
It’s a 55 per cent increase from 2,986 over the same period last year - and the next quarterly figures which will cover the winter are expected to grow.
This included 1,613 parcels to children in Barnsley - a 67 per cent rise on last year’s 966.
Barnsley East MP Stephanie Peacock added: “The government simply aren’t doing enough to help ordinary families, many of whom are now struggling to afford the basics.
“If this crisis is affecting you, I will do everything I can to raise these concerns in Parliament.”