Growing up in coastal communities

There has been a profound shift in the pattern of child poverty towards Britain’s periphery. As a result, while coastal communities potentially offer children a wealth of opportunities for life-enhancing and resilience-building activities, many children who grow up in them have limited access to these resources.

Education and employment

One key problem is a lack of educational capital, low levels of aspiration and poor educational attainment. Children living in coastal communities have, on average, lower GCSE grades. The attainment gap between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged children is most pronounced in coastal communities. Rates of participation in higher education are also significantly lower than in non-coastal areas. Several factors are at play. Many coastal communities have much higher than average proportions of working age adults with low or no qualifications. Families' knowledge, information and experience of schooling all play an important role shaping children's own aspirations and expectations. The limited range of employment opportunities available to children growing up in economically marginal coastal areas distant from large urban centres also has adverse socio-psychological consequences. Dr Rowena Passy has explored the role that coastal academies can play in challenging schools' culture of under-performance, while colleagues in the University of Plymouth’s Centre for Health Technology are exploring the role that intergenerational connections can play in reducing digital exclusion among older people while promoting greater self-esteem and self-efficacy among young people.

Deprivation and social displacement

Problems of deprivation and social displacement also create adult problems that impact children's well-being in coastal areas. Exposure to mental ill-health, addiction and domestic violence are known risk factors for children, with evidence that coastal children are more likely to experience these adverse exposures than their non-coastal peers. This is expressed in significantly higher rates of hospitalisation for self-harm, alcohol and drug use. A disproportionately large number of children in coastal towns and cities are in the care of the local authority. Funded by the Department of Education and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, Dr Alex Gibson is the technical lead on the development of a new Children’s Social Services formula which will be introduced after the next spending review.

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Centre for Health Technology

Bringing together digital health and health technology expertise from across the University to drive the development, evaluation and implementation of innovative technologies, products, services and approaches to transform health and social care.

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Media highlights

Digital inequity: a major health risk in coastal Britain

“Coastal communities [...] include many of the most beautiful, vibrant and historically important places in the country. They also have some of the worst health outcomes in England, with low life expectancy and high rates of many major diseases.”
      – Professor Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer's Annual Report 2021

Researchers at the University of Plymouth, including Professor Ray Jones and Professor Sheena Asthana – who contributed to the Chief Medical Officer's Report – and Professor Katharine Willis have been working to address digital inequities and poor health outcomes in our coastal communities.

Read more about the University of Plymouth's work targetting digital inequity