The hospitality sector was decimated by Covid, then faced having to get back on track between lockdowns and is still struggling with staff absences due to Covid. Jobs are often temporary and zero hours, with workers being laid off at short notice due to Covid closures. Many people in our communities are trying to survive on a number of seasonal jobs and the cost of living crisis is biting. Housing costs are so high and energy price caps do not apply to the gas and oil supplies off the grid that they rely on. As the price of oil increases, so do thefts from tanks and the police do not have the numbers or resources to chase up these crimes in rural areas.
Despite low wages and insecure jobs, housing costs by the sea are often inflated and far above the average. Holiday lets and Airbnbs mean that there are fewer hotel jobs and workers on local wages struggle to get housing of any type near where they work – to rent or to buy. Keyworkers in Cornwall have found it hard to get accommodation and many have taken to living in vans, as there is no affordable alternative.
Off season, those high numbers of empty second homes have hollowed out our communities, which is why Luke Pollard MP, Tudor Evans and myself have started our ‘First Homes Not Second Homes’ campaign in the South West.
Coastal communities also tend to have more elderly people than the average as people retire to live by the sea, so demand for social care is high, but supply is depleted. Healthcare is often patchy and requires a large amount of travel to and from appointments, but the public transport network in rural and coastal areas is limited, particularly off-season. In summer, parking and congestion is a terrible problem on our narrow Cornish roads.
To help these communities, Labour must recognise the issues and the struggle to live and work by the sea, where inequality is heightened, where luxury flats sit in front of estates with high levels of deprivation. St Ives has a staggering 36% of children living in poverty, but you’d never think it to look at the buzz in the summer and the eye-watering cost of holiday accommodation.
Bringing well paid jobs to these areas is key. The £28 billion per year to boost the Green Economy announced by Rachel Reeves at last year’s Party Conference could and should benefit areas like ours, investing in training and sustainable, better paid jobs widening the choice of careers.
We also must offer solutions to the housing crisis. Truly affordable housing for our keyworkers and ways to control spiralling prices and the explosion in the Airbnb/holiday let market.
Our children are having to leave our communities to study or find work and simply cannot afford to come back to the places where they grew up. Our populations are ageing and working age people often don’t have the means to live here.
Seats like mine, in Cornwall, are crucial if Labour is going to be able to form a government. Labour must offer coastal communities solutions to these entrenched issues and we need to communicate those clearly by the next General Election.
Jayne Kirkham is a Cllr in Falmouth