Sheffield is still winning the battle for survival following the recession – but youth unemployment rates, chronic health problems and mixed economic fortunes threaten to derail the city’s progress, according to a new report today.
This year’s State of Sheffield report by civic leaders says a booming population has also increased the pace of change locally and warns those facing poverty and financial difficulties could soon face ‘even more extreme hardship’.
The number of people living in the city has increased by more than 7.6 per cent over the last decade – with almost 20 per cent of all residents now from ethnic minorities.
Sheffield is a ‘city of choice’ for people to live and work in, the report says, but there are not enough new businesses, wages are among the lowest of the country’s major cities and unemployment among those aged 18 to 24 has risen ‘significantly’. In the past year alone there has been a 17 per cent drop in the number of 25 to 29-year-olds in Sheffield – and it is feared this is down to a lack of enticing jobs.
City residents are living longer – but this is expected to bring a big increase in the number of elderly people with dementia to 9,300 in 16 years’ time.
Unhealthy, sedentary lifestyles, poor mental health and a 22 per cent increase in the number of obese women are also a cause for concern. More than a fifth of households are living in ‘relative poverty’ – described as having a household income less than 60 per cent the national average – while the gap between the city’s economic output and the national average is estimated at £1.6 billion.
Council leader Julie Dore, who chairs the Sheffield Executive Board which produced the report, said: “Sheffield is a very resilient city and one that always shows grit and determination. “Although it seems we have weathered the economic storm there is still a lot of work to do to make sure the Sheffield of tomorrow provides the right opportunity for our young people.”
Sharon Squires, who is a director of Sheffield First Partnership, the body which helped draw up the report, said: “The common narrative is that Sheffield continues to be a ‘city of choice’ for many.”
Fewer homes and of poorer quality
The poor state of local housing remains an issue for the people of Sheffield.
Amid falling levels of house building and restricted access to mortgages, more people are renting property which is not always up to standard.
Last year 91 per cent of rented council houses met Government standards – but just over half of private rented housing is up to scratch.
“Too many families are living in poor quality housing across the city,” the report says.
House building dropped from a peak of 2,882 in 2007/08 to 931 in 2012/13 and average property prices have dropped, although the level of sales is improving.
In 2010, the most year for which figures are available, 42,190 people in Sheffield were living in fuel poverty and struggling to heat their homes.
“It’s a vibrant, cosmopolitan place to live”
Ethnic minorities now make up 20 per cent of Sheffield’s population – posing a ‘big challenge’ for the city.
The State of Sheffield 2014 report says 109,500 residents are from ethnic minority backgrounds, more than twice the figure of 55,200 a decade ago.
And overall the local population has been ‘consistently increasing’, standing at 552,700 in 2011, according to the latest census figures.
The number of people in the city centre has doubled, largely as a result of students moving in, while Walkley’s and Fulwood’s populations have risen by 21 and 17 per cent respectively.
In the Central ward, more than eight per cent of the population is now Chinese, while Burngreave and Darnall have the highest numbers of ethnic minorities, the biggest group being residents of Pakistani origin.
Seven per cent of people in Burngreave were of Arab origin, and in Darnall 7.3 per cent were Bangladeshi.
The Dean of Sheffield, Reverend Peter Bradley, who helped to produce the report, said: “Our communities have changed. We often talk about expecting such a change, but it’s happened. I think that’s a big challenge for our city.”
Burngreave and Darnall have seen ‘significant’ population growth, while wards such as Graves Park, Woodhouse, Southey Green and Birley have seen a decline.
Affluent areas in the south- west of Sheffield are becoming even more sought after as places to live.
Beauchief, Dore and Totley and Stannington – where numbers of residents went up by over 10 per cent – have all seen an influx.
Numbers of elderly residents went up 26 per cent between 2001 and 2011, with more expected to live past 85.
Three wards had more than a fifth of their residents in the over-65 age group – Woodhouse, Birley and West Ecclesfield.
Sheffield’s population went from 513,000 to 552,700 over 10 years, although it dipped slightly to 551,800 afterwards.
In 2013 there was a 17 per cent drop in 25 to 29-year-olds, followed by a 10 per cent decline in those aged 20 to 24.
“The city is growing; people are staying here and are choosing to have families here.
“People and businesses are choosing to move to Sheffield. The city has an increasingly vibrant, cosmopolitan and diverse population.”
Too many youngsters remain out of work
Youth unemployment is still ‘far too high’ in Sheffield, despite apprenticeship schemes and new education strategies helping to bring down the number of jobless young people.
The current rate of unemployment stands at 10.8 per cent, more than a quarter of whom are aged between 16 and 24.
Benefit claimant rates also vary across the city – last September unemployment was below the national average in the Hallam and Hillsborough constituencies, but above in four other areas, the highest being Brightside.
Council leader Julie Dore said the authority ‘continues to help young people get a start on the career ladder’, through apprenticeships and the new University Technical College.
“Our commitment to apprenticeships, for which we are a leader nationally, has now see the percentage of young people not in education, employment or training reduce to 6.5 per cent, but we want to reduce this further,” she said.
Last August, 46 per cent of people on the dole in Sheffield had been signing on for up to six months, while 34 per cent had been doing so for over a year. The previous month, 2,780 had been signing on for at least two years.
The State of Sheffield report also issues a stark warning to families already struggling to cope in an age of austerity. “It is no longer the case that work is the route out of poverty,” it says.
“In terms of future trends, many of those already in difficulty will potentially face even more extreme hardship and additional groups currently on the margins of poverty and new groups of households who may have been financially secure previously could have new challenges to face.”
Performance still lagging behind average
The State of Sheffield report raises questions about the strength of the city’s economy.
The gap between the city’s economic output and the national average is estimated at £1.6 billion.
“Even if Sheffield continues to track wider UK economic trends, it will not significantly close the output gap,” the paper says.
“Economic performance remains a mixed story. The city does not have the number of businesses, relative to the size of its population, as it should. Levels of start-up businesses need to increase.”
But John Mothersole, the council’s chief executive, said Sheffield had not ‘fallen out of the pack’ following the recession of 2008.
“We want to be different, but we want the same economic performance and earning power as the best of the other English cities outside of London,” he said.
High-profile events and festivals are still pulling in visitors and giving the city a boost – but two of these events, Tramlines and Fright Night, have had their council funding cut or cancelled entirely.
Wellbeing of women a cause for concern
The state of women’s health is a new cause for concern, according to the report.
More than 22 per cent of females in Sheffield are obese, a figure which is increasing, while the percentage of new mums who smoke has gone up over the last three years.
Teenage pregnancy rates are also higher than the national average, although levels have ‘reduced significantly’.
People in all parts of the city are living longer and fewer are dying from major illnesses such as heart disease and cancer.
But infant death rates, unhealthy lifestyles, dementia and poor mental health all pose problems.
It is estimated that only a quarter of Sheffield adults eat five or more portions of fruit and vegetables daily, while 580 deaths could be prevented annually if residents improved their diet.
“Sheffield’s amount of both adult and childhood obesity is worrying and poses a major risk to health,” the report says.