Whatever happened to all those miners? Shocks and economic resilience

Where have all the miners gone?  To judge by the rhetoric of the BBC and other media outlets, whole swathes of Britain lie devastated, plagued by rickets, unemployment and endemic poverty – nearly thirty years after the pit closures under Lady Thatcher!

The reality is different.  There is indeed a small number of local authority areas where employment has never really recovered from the closures in the 1980s.  But, equally, there are former mining areas which have prospered.

Thirty years ago, in 1983, there were 29 local authority areas in the UK, out of a total of over 450, in which mining accounted for more than 10 per cent of total employment.  A mere handful of areas still remain scarred by the closures. Wansbeck, on the bleak Northumbrian coast, had 21 per cent of its jobs filled by mining in 1983.  Now, employment remains 25 per cent lower than it was then.  Elsewhere, reality is not as bad as the image.

The old mining areas at the heads of the South Wales valleys are meant to symbolise industrial decay.  But in Merthyr Tydfil, there are 8 per cent more jobs than there were in 1983.  Admittedly, in Blaenau Gwent, based on Ebbw Vale, employment is 12 per cent lower. This is hardly permanent devastation.  In Easington on the Durham coast, miners made up no less than 41 per cent of all local employment.  But even after this devastating blow, losing almost half the area’s jobs, employment now is only 9 per cent lower than it was in 1983.

In contrast, there are real success stories.  North West Leicestershire and South Staffordshire used to have lots of miners.  But employment in both areas is now some 40 per cent – forty! – higher than it was in 1983.

The experience of the individual mining areas differs dramatically in terms of their resilience, their ability to recover economically.  Three years ago, I published a short article in Applied Economics Letters (link) on the changes in employment in all the mining areas between 1983 and 2002.  Total UK employment grew by 23 per cent, and in the ex-mining areas as a whole by just 9 per cent.  But it was growth and not decline.

A key influence on this has been the attitude of the workers.  Statistical analysis shows that the more militant an area was in the bitter and controversial miners’ strike in the winter of 1984/85, the less well it has done subsequently.  In Leicestershire, one of the success stories, only 10 per cent ever supported the strike in the first place.  In Wansbeck, support was 95 per cent, and even when the strike was ending rapidly in March 1985, 60 per cent were still out.

Economies have the capacity to recover from even the most dramatic adverse shocks, both at national and local levels.  But to do this successfully, the workers must be willing to embrace the future rather than cling to the past.

2 Responses to “Whatever happened to all those miners? Shocks and economic resilience”

  1. Nigel Gilbert says:

    Interesting story. But the last but one paragraph implies that there is a causal link between the attitude of the works in an area and the subsequent economic recovery: the more militant areas have seen the least recovery. But this association could also be accounted for if the areas with the worst prospects for recovery (e.g. because no alternative employment was conceivable) had the most militant miners, because those miners could see that there was no hope for the area other than winning the strike.

  2. John Lipetz says:

    The situation is more ‘camplex’ than you imply, Greg. I worked in North Notts in the mining industry from 1956 to 1960. I revisited the area with a friend in the late 90’s to see what had happened as a result of the pit closures. Going to Bilsthorpe where I had visited on work occasionally as part of a mines rescue team and where a friend there lived at the time I found many boarded up shops and a few people hanging around. It was dead! By contrast in Edwinstowe by Sherwood Forest near Thoresby colliery, where I had worked for a time, which was still open the place was vibrant both because of the pit and the nearness of Robin Hood country. Again, I visited Blidworth where I had worked as a Deputy. Where the pit had been was a site for industry. Speaking to an ex miner cutting his hedge he described the change of residents living in the village each year as firms left after the money allowing them to be established came to an end. Lastly, I went into Mansfield town which had been a thriving town both for the farming area and for the number of pits around it. That Saturday the central square was dead compared to the bustling market that had thrived there in the past.
    So, the issue for me is the relevance of complexity theory to the problem and how it can help to make the needed changes. I know that government economic policy can make a contribution, significant if the policies of the Coalition for Economic Justice were applied. But other policies in education and a range of fields are also necessary. Over to you for comment if you wish.
    Best wishes,
    PS Perhaps I should add that this was the easiest of the articles you have written for me to follow!

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