WORTHING has a ‘low wage, high welfare’ economy – and its houses are increasingly unaffordable.
That is according to a report published by the Centre for Cities on Monday.
But Worthing Council leader Dan Humphreys insisted that the headline finding was ‘misleading’.
Tim Loughton, MP for East Worthing and Shoreham, also noted that the report’s employment figures were a cause for optimism.
In the Cities Outlook 2016, a study of the UK’s 63 largest cities and towns, Worthing joined the 29 classified as economies with low pay and high benefits bills – despite having the ninth lowest benefit claimant count.
Liberal Democrat councillor Bob Smytherman said the report highlighted concerns about ‘the chronic shortage of affordable housing and failure to deliver an adequate supply of social housing’.
However, Mr Humphreys, present at the report’s launch, claimed that the finding was ‘not a fair characterisation’.
He explained: “Because it includes pensions and benefits to elderly people (such as winter fuel allowance), and Worthing has a large number of OAPs, the ‘welfare’ figure is distorted.
“It is better to look at the number of jobseekers’ allowance claimants where Worthing is one of the lowest in the country – so definitely not a ‘high welfare’ town.”
Worthing bucked the geographical trend, with just four of the 29 so-called ‘low wage, high welfare’ cities and towns in the south.
On housing affordability, Worthing also fared poorly, having the ninth least affordable house prices (£262,300.25) in proportion to average local wages (£25,900).
And housing prices are increasing faster than elsewhere, with this year’s rise of 7.9 per cent the seventh highest in the report.
Mr Humphreys suggested that high house price raises reflected the fact demand was outpacing supply.
“Houses are being built at a fast pace in Worthing but there is only so much we can do,” he said, pointing out that in 2015 the council agreed a £10-million loan for the construction of affordable homes to ease demand.
Mr Loughton noted that ‘the capacity for building new homes is constrained by the scarcity of new lands between the South Downs and the English Channel’, and pointed towards the Government’s efforts to tackle housing affordability.
He said: “The Government has put in place a number of schemes, such as Help-to-Buy, which is helping to make the aspiration of home ownership a reality for more people, and building 100,000 new Starter Homes, specifically for first-time buyers at a price they can afford.
“The Government has also introduced the Help-to-Buy ISA which supports people saving up for their first home by providing them with a maximum government bonus of £3,000 on £12,000 of savings, a Government boost of 25 per cent.”
However, Mr Smytherman said there was scope for further action, suggesting the council should require that 50 per cent of new developments be affordable housing.
“The current policy has failed generations of young people struggling to get a home of their own,” he said.
With 1.8 private sector jobs to every job in the public sector, Worthing also had the 9th smallest proportion of private sector jobs.
But it was not all bad news, as Worthing added 2,500 net private sector jobs in 2013-2014, the second highest annual percentage growth in the report, just below Oxford.
Mr Loughton welcomed the news, describing it as ‘testament to the entrepreneurial spirit and hard-working attitude of the people of Worthing’.
Mr Humphreys said steps were being taken to boost wages: “We are working with partners including local businesses, education providers, the County Council and the Greater Brighton City Deal to ensure that businesses and skills meet the challenge of the 21st century.
“Northbrook College is a great example of how we are giving people skills to take on jobs that pay higher wages.
“The recent relocation of Rayner International to East Worthing is further evidence that firms which pay higher wages for highly skilled jobs are looking at Worthing as a great place to do business.”
“On balance Worthing is clearly a desirable place to live for many families looking for an alternative to Brighton,” said Mr Smytherman.
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