Our region's former coalfields are "scarred by the legacy of the past", according to a new report.

This study adds that these areas look set to become a key battleground in a general election.

It was launched at a cross-party reception in Westminster this morning.

The Coalfields Regeneration Trust commissioned this document and it was compiled by researchers at Sheffield Hallam University's Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research.

It looks into former mining areas across the UK and looked into weaknesses in the local economy, extensive social and economic disadvantage, and widespread ill-health extending far beyond just ex-miners.

The UK's former coalfields have a combined population of 5.7 million, which is roughly the same as a typical English region and more than the whole of either Scotland or Wales.

The new report shows that: To raise the employment rate to the level in South East England would require 170,000 additional coalfield residents to be in work.

The number of jobs in the coalfields has increased during the upturn but at only half the rate in the main regional cities and only a third of the rate in London. While unemployment is well down on peak levels, the coalfields still have significantly higher numbers of people out\-of\-work on other benefits. Low earnings have triggered widespread entitlement to Tax Credits. By 2021 welfare cuts are expected to take a total of £2.4bn a year from coalfield residents. One\-in\-twelve of the entire population of the coalfields claim Disability Living Allowance or its replacement, Personal Independence Payment.

The reality is 42 per cent of residents in coalfields live in the most deprived 30 per cent in the UK showing little change over the last five years.

Professor Steve Fothergill, who led the research, said: "

If the coalfields had been a region in their own right, all clustered together in one part of the country, the statistics would probably show the former coalfields to be the most deprived region in the UK. "Whilst there is no question that the former coalfields have benefitted from the upturn the evidence that there has been 'catching up' is far less clear.

Professor Steve Fothergill, Sheffield Hallam University

Peter McNestry Chairman of the Coalfields Regeneration Trust, said:

Many of our communities may well be the key battleground for the next General Election which appears to be coming sooner rather than later. "The challenge to all parties who have ambition to govern, is how they plan to address the ongoing issues in the heart of our communities so clearly demonstrated in this latest independent report. We are working up proposals with other key partners on what is required to address deep rooted issues around employment, skills and health and wellbeing. The commitment we need from politicians is that they will take the necessary action that is so clearly required.

Peter McNestry, Coalfields Regeneration Trust