5 things we’ve learnt from a report about ‘Blue Wall’ seats

Labour suffered its worst election defeat since the 1930s last year. The party lost a number of seats from its so-called ‘Red Wall’, ceding places never before held by the Tories, which has now created a ‘Blue Wall’ stretching across the Midlands, North of England and Wales.

Discussion of these constituencies and the change in voting behaviour of their residents has led to a picture being painted of poorer, older, ‘left-behind’ areas, which young people leave en-masse. But is this an accurate characterisation?

To find out a little more about these former ‘Red Wall’ seats, we took a closer look at a report published by the Resolution Foundation on the subject earlier this week. Below are five things we learnt.

Employment is generally higher than in other Labour seats.

These seats have lower levels of employment than the national average, and in recent years employment has grown less quickly than in the rest of the country – 4% compared to 5.3% since 2010.

But while employment is lower than the country generally – it sits at 72.9% – it is very slightly higher than the average for Labour-held constituencies at 72.1%.

More concerning is the fact that these areas have lots of people working in shrinking sectors, including retail and manufacturing. The working population is shifting towards higher-value sectors at a slower rate than in other places.

Pay is higher.

Considered against the country as a whole, these ex-‘Red Wall’ seats have lower than average weekly pay – with people earning £20 less than in the rest of Britain, and £44 lower than in other Tory areas.

Pay across these constituencies has fallen faster than in other areas in real terms, with a reduction of 2.1% since 2010 compared to a national average decrease of 1.5%.

But the report points out that this is largely symptomatic of the large regional inequality between London and the South East and the rest of the country.

The districts are closer to the national average than in other Labour held places in the North, Midlands and Wales, with average earnings that are £9 lower per week.

Their residents are middle aged.

These seats are categorically not old. The residents are in fact only very slightly older than the national average for the UK.

The average in the red wall seats stands at 41, while the average across the country of 40.3 years. Labour seats have an average age of 37.5 while their Tory counterparts are on average aged 42.3.

The constituencies are pretty normal in terms of the rate at which the population is ageing, too. Between 2002-18, mean age increased by 4%, compared to 5% across England and Wales.

People are not in a rush to leave.

People do not seem to be leaving in their droves – and that includes young people. Instead, there is high retention. Residents are far less likely to leave the local authorities they live in to find work, compared with people in other areas of the country.

But while there are not large numbers of people leaving these areas, there also aren’t many going to these constituencies. The report showed that people in these seats are far less likely to have moved from another area in the UK, or from abroad, than in other regions.

Home ownership is higher than the national average.

Home ownership in the former ‘Red Wall’ seats stands at 54%, slightly above the national average of 54%. This is markedly higher than the average for Labour seats, which is 43%.

This is perhaps not surprising, as house prices tend to be much lower than the national average. A typical home in these constituencies costs £142,000 compared to an average of £263,000 for England and Wales.

Gross property wealth per family – the value of the main residence for a family – is higher in the constituencies at around £77,000 than in Labour seats across the North, Midlands and Wales (£69,000).

The report also found that there is less housing pressure in these seats across a range of indicators including access to housing and services, rent and house prices.

More from LabourList