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Figures miss Wales' feel-good factors.

Byline: By Rhodri Clark Western Mail

Wales may be Britain's "blue- rinse" capital, but that pensioner presence is helping to distort our place in the national wealth league, the Western Mail reveals today. Natural beauty, low crime rates and affordable property make many areas of Wales an attractive proposition for retirement. But any outsider would get a very different picture from UK wealth statistics - where Wales is routinely bottom of the class. Last week a Halifax bank survey showed Gross Domestic Product of just pounds 13,813 per head in Wales, compared to pounds 24,075 in London.

But the figures may be skewed because Wales has a higher proportion of pensioners than England. GDP per capita - the standard measure of wealth - is calculated by dividing salaries and wages by the population, including people who no longer earn anything because they have retired. The figures can therefore overstate deprivation, especially in areas of North, Mid and West Wales which continue to attract retirees from England.

One economist said yesterday GDP was a poor indicator of progress, ignoring key quality-of-life factors such as the environment.

The Western Mail's analysis of the latest available figures from the Office for National Statistics shows 20.7% of Wales' population is over retirement age, compared with 18.6% in England.

There are 3.34 people of working age to every pensioner in England, but just 2.91 in Wales.

Cardiff, with four people of working age per pensioner, is the only part of Wales exceeding the English or UK averages.

There are just two working-age people to every pensioner in Conwy, where many retirees are attracted by coastal towns like Llandudno and the rural beauty of Snowdonia and the Conwy Valley. Powys, Pembrokeshire, Monmouthshire and other rural counties also have high proportions of pensioners.

David Wildman, Pembrokeshire council's cabinet member for the elderly, said many people had moved to his county to retire.

"The effect of our large population of retired people isn't recognised by the Government in London or the Welsh Assembly Government," he said.

"We've got terrific pressures because of the increasing numbers of retired people and the money isn't there.

"They keep funnelling money into the health service but they say we need to keep people out of hospital. So we provide more services to keep people living in their homes, which increases our costs, but we don't get the appropriate funding from the WAG. This is a pressure that's felt by every authority, but especially ones like ourselves, Powys and Conwy.

"Young people have had to move away because they can't buy a house. A 65-year-old can now expect to live another 21 years. That's wonderful, but where will we get the money and the people to look after them?"

Calvin Jones of the Welsh Economy Research Unit at Cardiff Business School said pensioners moving to Wales were only part of the picture of a naturally ageing population. The brain drain also played its part. Lower wages also dragged down Wales' GDP.

"People moving out of Wales to get work is a problem because of the type of people who move out," said Dr Jones. "It's not so much the number of them, but the fact they're the best qualified."

GDP figures inaccurately reflected the quality of life in areas of Wales such as Pembrokeshire.

"In policy terms, GDP is fast becoming an irrelevant way of measuring progress," he said. "When you think of London's GDP, it looks 30 to 40% richer than Wales. Is it a 30 to 40% nicer place to live? Are people 30 to 40% happier there? "No, because there are lots of pressures of time and cost and environment, which press harder on people in London." He said GDP comparisons ignored environmental factors such as natural resources. He suggested Wales should concentrate on promoting its environment to attract more entrepreneurs like Howies, the ethical clothing company in Cardigan.: Pensioners in Wales: the league table:These figures show the number of working-age people to each person of retirement age Conwy 2.0 Powys 2.3 Pembrokeshire 2.4 Denbighshire 2.4 Anglesey 2.5 Carmarthenshire 2.5 Gwynedd 2.6 Monmouthshire 2.6 Ceredigion 2.7 Neath Port Talbot 2.8 Swansea 2.9 Torfaen 2.9 Blaenau Gwent 2.9 Vale of Glamorgan 3.0 Bridgend 3.0 Merthyr Tydfil 3.2 Newport 3.2 Rhondda Cynon Taf 3.2

Flintshire 3.2

Wrexham 3.2

Caerphilly 3.3

Cardiff 4.09

WALES 2.91

England 3.34

UK 3.32

Source: Office for National Statistics, mid-2006 population estimates

Mrs Slocombe made the blue rinse infamous in Are You Being Served? but now it seems it's had its day. While pensioners are still characterised as the "blue rinse brigade", you'd be hard pressed to find an elderly woman with blue hair today, even in Wales' retirement capital, Conwy. "Ladies of a certain age always used to have the same blue rinse under the drier with rollers," said Michelle Morley, who has worked for 15 years as a hairdresser in Llandudno, Conwy. "It's not often we do it now. I can't think of a client of ours who has it. I wouldn't even know what to use. L'Oreal, who we use in the salon, stopped making the coloured setting lotions about five years ago." Miss Morley, who works at the Brian Bates salon in Mostyn Avenue, said the lotion was meant to give a silvered look but the blue tint built up over time.
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Oct 11, 2007
Words:917
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