Deprivation figures spark appeal for more support for Borders estates

Two estates in the Borders highlighted in a new report as being among the most deprived in Scotland have been abandoned in their hour of need, according to community leaders.

Wednesday, 12th February 2020, 4:52 pm
Hawick and Denholm councillor Stuart Marshall at Burnfoot.

The Scottish Government’s index of multiple deprivation, a publication identifying places where people are disadvantaged across different aspects of their lives, including being on low incomes and lacking access to resources and opportunities, lists Burnfoot in Hawick and Langlee in Galashiels as being in the top 10% for deprivation nationwide.

The latest index figures give a ranking for 6,976 small areas, or data zones, and parts of Burnfoot are rated as 479th most deprived overall and areas of Langlee as 264th.

Parts of Selkirk fall into the second most deprived category.

Those figures come as no surprise to councillors representing those parts of the region, and some say that the issues they face have been exacerbated by resources being withdrawn.

Hawick and Denholm councillor Stuart Marshall accepts the statistics are accurate but says he looks forward to the day when residents there do not have to face the stigma associated with such figures.

He said: “Whilst I fully accept these latest deprivation figures to be published for my ward, it is quite sad and worrying that parts of Burnfoot remain within the top 10, and I certainly applaud the huge amount of work that is currently being done by key groups in Burnfoot to improve life for families.

“Burnfoot Community Council, Burnfoot Community Futures and Hawick Community Learning Partnership are only a handful of the outstanding groups that are doing so much to reduce such statistics and, in turn, support many families who, often through no fault of their own, find themselves struggling to make ends meet.

“I know many families who struggle to get by simply because they have only one bread-winner in the family, and that individual is often on a zero-hours or part-time contract.

“Substandard housing and fuel poverty are also issues that need to be tackled, and recent statistics show a rise in people throughout my ward claiming unemployment benefit.

“Clearly, both Scottish Borders Council and the Scottish Government need to do much more if they seriously want to reduce these latest figures that affect the largest housing scheme in the Borders and, like many people in Burnfoot, I would welcome the day when the stigma that goes along with such data is finally removed.”

Galashiels Community Council chairwoman Judith Cleghorn and Langlee Community Centre chairwoman Heidi Wilson have issued a joint response to the figures.

It says: “We were not surprised at all at the stats. They are a true reflection of the situation in Langlee.

“However, this is not helped by the cutting of essential services to the area – for instance, we have, for many years, had a representative of the NHS healthy living network working exclusively in Langlee. This has now stopped and we have no indication that it will be resumed.

“Scottish Borders Council’s community learning and development team supplied a full-time worker to this area, but, again, that service has ceased, and, despite our inquiries, we have no idea whether or when it will be resumed.

“However, on the plus side, we have a good solid group of volunteers, working in their own time to try to help the community of Langlee.

“There is a very active youth club, a residents’ association and a great community centre, but we feel we have been abandoned by the NHS and Scottish Borders Council when we need their services most.”

Galashiels councillor Euan Jardine believes that despite such negative statistics, Langlee has much to celebrate.

He said: “It is concerning that some areas of the Borders rank lower than others in the index figures.

“Langlee has a very strong community and has produced some of Scotland’s greatest sports stars like John Collins, Chris Paterson and Ian Stark.

“There are many positives to the area and, of course, the report highlights the hardships as well.

“I feel it is important that governments at all levels look at the issue of poverty as a high priority.

“We hear a lot in the news about climate emergency, but I think we need to look at the poverty emergency first.

“We also need to look at how we can enable people to succeed and create opportunities by cultivating ambitious mindsets, starting with our school system.

“We need to use schools as not just learning places but an environment in which we help to nurture and build resilience in our young people.”

Like Mr Marshall, Hawick and Hermitage councillor and town provost Watson McAteer believes Burnfoot is stigmatised by the statistics and is calling for action to rectify the inequalities afflicting it.

He said: “When a small but important area of Hawick ranks so poorly in the Scottish index of multiple deprivation, then it’s time more direct positive action is taken by Scottish Borders Council and the Scottish Government.

“Burnfoot is a great community, and this type of stigmatisation must be addressed with hard cash and support being provided to those most in need.

“These latest figures are not new and simply magnify a disgraceful trend that has been going on for far too long.”

Fellow Hawick and Hermitage councillor Davie Paterson added: “I don’t really know what the answer is.

“Since I was first elected nearly 32 years ago, there must have been many millions of pounds thrown at Burnfoot to try and improve the situation, but it has not worked.

“I think that Burnfoot and Langlee desperately need some sort of help to get employment opportunities for people.”

South Scotland Labour list MSP Colin Smyth added: “Following the constant Scottish Government budget cuts suffered by councils and the welfare cuts from the UK Government, I’m not surprised that areas of Hawick, Selkirk and Galashiels have featured in this report.

“However, I believe these figures underestimate the scale of poverty in this region.

“The index shows where there are high populated areas with a concentration of people on low incomes. That fails to recognise that the population in rural areas is more spread out with smaller pockets of real poverty not just in one area.”

“I believe we would benefit from a different measure of rural poverty.

“It beggars belief that in 2020, your postcode can still be the determining factor in your quality of life.”