Birmingham is to be condemned by a senior Tory politician as a deeply divided city where a sub-culture of poverty and deprivation sits alongside pockets of great wealth and prosperity.
Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Chris Grayling will draw parallels with Victorian times by suggesting that the gulf between rich and poor has not been as great for more than 100 years.
In a keynote speech, Mr Grayling will name Birmingham alongside London, Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow as a city where many neighbourhoods are plagued by high unemployment and low life expectancy.
He will say: “The gap between the life expectancy of the richest and the poorest is now at its widest since the Victorian era. There could be no clearer indicator of a society that is getting things wrong.
“And it’s not just health inequalities that are so stark. The financial gap between the richest and the poorest is at its widest for generations. Almost certainly since the era of the Great Depression, perhaps even longer than that.”
Speaking in Liverpool, the European Capital of Culture, Mr Grayling will say: “What we are seeing is the growth of a sub-culture in our society that is utterly divided from and alienated from mainstream British life. In many respects these communities might as well be on a different planet from the rest of us.
“Within our cities we have local areas of extreme deprivation and social alienation from which few people escape.
“It’s as if there are glass walls around them, a parallel culture existing alongside all of us in our daily lives.
“It’s a world where generations do not work. Where parents take little interest in the schooling of their children, and where, all too often, truancy rather than education becomes the norm.
“Indeed, where children all too often have no stable family life at all, sometimes to the extent where they don’t even have a single conventional home to live in. Brought up by grandparents, because parents are no longer around. Or passed from relative to relative.
“Where often the gang culture on the streets offers a kind of stability and support that family life could never offer.
“And where educational failure is followed by worklessness and all too often crime, antisocial behaviour, welfare dependency and often mental health problems.”
Mr Grayling’s remarks are likely to annoy Birmingham City Council’s Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, which has made the targeting of unemployment and poverty through a “Flourishing Neighbourhoods” programme one of its priorities.
While the city centre economy continues to prosper, with visitor spending topping £4.4 billion last year, the number of people out of work in many inner city wards remains stubbornly high despite multi-million pound investment in Government-backed regeneration projects since 1997.
Unemployment across Birmingham is more than twice the UK average, but in areas like Aston, Sparkbrook, Nechells and Washwood Heath there are pockets where more than 30 per cent of the economically active workforce is without a job.
Ten inner-city wards account for 46 per cent of all unemployment in the Birmingham and Solihull sub-region.
Deputy council leader Paul Tilsley told the cabinet yesterday that five-year improvement plans would address problems of deprivation and ensure Birmingham became a “city second to none”.
The Government’s new Working Neighbourhoods Fund, which will remain in place until 2010-2011, is aimed at supporting a concentrated approach to getting people in the most deprived areas of the city into work.
This year £34 million will be allocated between centrally driven but locally targeted interventions to tackle worklessness in the most deprived neighbourhoods and a city-wide programme targeting areas such as housing, health and wellbeing, community safety, children and young people, culture and environment.