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South Wales Valleys, known locally as “The Valleys,” is the former industrial area of South Wales in the UK and is currently home to around 30 percent of the Welsh population. It is also the poorest region in Wales. Despite receiving a high level of financial support from the EU, The Valleys recently voted overwhelmingly in favor of Brexit. The Valleys had been a particular target of EU Regional Policy funding due to its classification as a “less developed region” where GDP was less than 75 percent of the EU average. And yet, on June 23, 2016, every single region in the Valley voted Leave. The effects of this shift could have dire consequences for the region as a whole.
The scenic countryside was first inhabited during the industrialization of the UK, and it was at this time that the characteristic workers’ houses were built. After this period, The Valleys coal mine industry boomed. When Margaret Thatcher took office as prime minister in 1979 and opened the UK to free market policies, many problems arose for the state-owned mining industry. When Thatcher announced plans to close the majority of the coal mines in 1984-85, miners across the country went on strike. Ultimately, the strike failed and all the mines were closed, resulting in unemployment rates rising to some of the highest in the UK. Drug abuse, alcoholism and educational drop-out rates rose as well. The destinies of the people of The Valleys are the legacy of Margaret Thatcher’s Britain and illustrate the conflicts that arise when a society that is built on industry meets right-wing political reality. Today, The Valleys are a shadow of what they once were. There are many who live difficult lives, but there is also a strong sense of community and warmth between people who are trying to get the valleys to rise again.