Corby is a town in Northamptonshire, located in the East Midlands of England, UK. The town’s trajectory was marked by the deindustrialisation of its steel industry through the 1980s, which led to mass unemployment and economic hardship. This legacy pervades as Corby ranked among the most deprived quartile of English local authority district areas in 2019. As the impacts of deindustrialisation are compounded by recent crises, several investments (including a new train station, the £32m ‘Corby Cube’ and a £20m Olympic-sized swimming pool) have aimed support Corby’s regeneration. The town’s former local council area (Corby Borough Council) represents the FUA’s boundaries; yet, following a process of reform, the town is now part of North Northamptonshire Council.
Main challenges, trends and policies
For the national policy-making context in England, there has been concerted efforts to reduce persistent inequalities in educational outcomes and to improve overall levels of attainment. These have included ‘pupil premium’ policies and an increase in the legal minimum school-leaving age. Locally, Northamptonshire County Council’s Championing Education Excellence School Improvement Strategy (2015) supported similar aims. Despite progress, the picture is complex and disruptions during the Covid-19 pandemic have stalled some improvements. Since the 2007 financial crash, and with the effects of Brexit uncertain, several national schemes have also focused on reducing the skills gap. Most prominently, the Post-16 Plan and apprenticeship schemes have aimed to increase young people’s participation in further education. With a prevalence of low-skilled job sectors in Corby, lifelong skills development has also been invested in locally through SEMLEP’s Growing People Skills Plan (2017).
Employment in Corby has suffered since deindustrialisation, due to issues of structural unemployment where local skills are not fit for the contemporary labour market. Today, Corby’s economy centres around manufacturing and distribution, meaning low-skills, low-pay and low-value jobs persist, with increasingly precarious paradigms of work particularly impacting younger workers. As unemployment rates rocketed in the wake of the 2007 financial crash, austere national policies since 2010 largely focussed on incentivising work through a package of welfare reforms. Shifting towards planning for a post-Brexit context, the 2017 Industrial Strategy White Paper and other national employment policies focused on increasing productivity and economic growth across the country. This included several central funding packages to support the ‘levelling up’ of local economic development in ‘left behind areas’. For instance, Corby received over £162,000 from the Towns Fund (2019) and £1,195,000 (for its Rockingham Green Energy Hub) from the Get Building Fund (2020). The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (2020) and Kickstart Scheme (2020) have also supported employment nationally during the pandemic.
Since 2010, austerity policies weakened the ‘housing safety net’ as unemployment rocketed during the global financial crisis, leading to a dramatic growth in homelessness. More broadly, many across the country experience housing which is unaffordable, unfit, unstable and unequal. National policies have responded to this ‘housing emergency’ by focussing on increasing housing developments, building environmentally friendly housing and providing integrated social housing options in new housing developments. The Localism Act (2011) also provided local councils with the more powers to control local housing strategies. This allowed Corby Borough Council to develop its Housing Development Strategy (2018) which aimed to establish criteria for the local council to consider when developing new homes to add to its housing stock. In addition, its Housing and Homelessness Strategy (2014-2019) aimed to reduce the town’s population who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, through pro-active case work and support. The Covid-19 crisis has further increased housing pressure. The national government responded with a series of temporary measures including the ‘Everybody in’ Scheme (2020), an evictions ban (2020) and extended notice period (2021).
Despite universal healthcare, in England, the range in life expectancy at birth between the least and most deprived area deciles was 9.3 years for males and 7.5 years for females in 2015 to 2017. This highlights ‘a social gradient in health’ whereby health inequalities result from social inequalities. In Corby, this can be seen through higher than average rates of childhood obesity; alcohol-related hospitalisations; teenage pregnancy; smoking-related deaths; self-harm and suicide. In response, the Healthy Lives, Healthy People White Paper (2010) set out a new approach to public health in England which accounted for the social determinants of health, including a commitment to improving the health of the poorest, fastest. This type of approach led to several new plans, strategies and initiatives, both nationally and locally, covering issues from mental health and suicide, to obesity, diabetes, tobacco, alcohol and teenage pregnancy. Yet, as the Covid-19 pandemic hit, it once again shone a light on persistent health inequalities: those aged under 65 in the poorest 10% of areas in England were almost 4 times more likely to die from Covid-19 than those in the wealthiest decile.
Discussion and main conclusions
- Trends in Corby are characterised by issues of globalisation and deindustrialisation. This has resulted in a prevalence of low-waged, precarious labour. These employment inequalities are driven by educational inequalities, and have implications for housing security and health and wellbeing.
- In the aftermath of the 2007 financial crash, policies at the macro-level largely aggravated inequalities in post-industrial towns like Corby, as austerity cuts have had disproportionate effects on these places. Under these reforms, the ‘social safety net’ deteriorated and preventative measures eroded, driving inequality across the four dimensions discussed in this report.
- The ‘levelling up’ agenda has begun to address the needs of post-industrial towns, like Corby, which had been ‘left behind’ or ‘forgotten’. Nonetheless, analysis has shown that these types of interventions have consistently failed to address the most deprived local areas. The lack of sustained community involvement in interventions (including the lack of involvement of young people as co-creators) has led to policy responses which are ill-suited to local needs.
- Whilst micro-level interventions have greater potential to address local-level needs, in expert interviews we heard a perception that local policies were disjointed and largely absent in practice. This must be viewed in the context of financial turmoil within Corby’s two-tier council structure. Across the country, austerity measures have reduced the capacities of local government to serve their communities. As this was coupled with financial mismanagement, Northamptonshire County Council faced bankruptcy leading to even statutory services being under threat.