King Coal is an unhealthy soul

September 29, 1995

The high number of ex-miners registering as permanently sick and taking early retirement helps to explain why, contrary to expectations, the United Kingdom's coalfields have fewer people on the dole now than ten years ago.

Stephen Fothergill, based at Sheffield Hallam University's centre for regional economic and social research, says that while unemployment in pit villages is officially running at 10 to 15 per cent, this is an "exceptionally poor guide" to the underlying level of joblessness.

Taking account of "hidden unemployment" such as the permanently sick, early retired and those on government training schemes, Professor Fothergill and his colleague Christina Beatty estimate that the real rate of male unemployment could be 30 per cent.

Professor Fothergill says that their research, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, shows how massive job losses can co-exist in the same area with little or no increase in recorded unemployment.

He says that coalmining employs around 15,000 compared to 280,000 in the early 1980s. There is a lot of "out-migration", where men of working age leave the fields and pit villages, or do not come back after studying or working elsewhere. This accounted for a net loss of one in 11 men of working age from English and Welsh coalfields between 1981 and 1991 and one in nine from pit villages over the same period.

But the 6 per cent in labour force participation among men of working age was also accounted for by a big rise in recorded permanent sickness.

Professor Fothergill says that "the decline in recorded unemployment in the coalfields does not reflect underlying strength or flexibility in local labour markets".

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