MORE than 500,000 people in former mining communities are blighted by deprivation, ill health and unemployment a quarter-of-a-century after the collapse of the industry, new research shows.

The author of an independent report set up to compare economic and social conditions in former mining areas with the rest of the country said the pit closures still cast a "long shadow" over such communities.

Some of the affected areas in Scotland have the fewest jobs available in the UK and the worst long-term health.

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The research by the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research at Sheffield Hallam University, called the State of the Coalfields, paints a grim picture for the 5.5 million people across the UK who live in former mining areas, and concludes there is a "compelling case" for continued support and access to funding for such communities.

Scotland's coalfields, Fife, Lothians, Ayrshire and Lanarkshire, are home to more than 500,000 people, or one in 10 of the country's population. The former coalfields in the South Wales Valleys have 757,000 people, 25% of Wales's entire population. England's 12 coalfields are home to 4.25 million people.

Professor Steve Fothergill, who led the research commissioned by the Coalfields Regeneration Trust, said the impact of the end of the mining industry had been severe.

He said: "The pit closures may now be receding into history, but the job losses that followed are still a serious and contributing factor to the long-term economic reality for most mining communities. The consequences are still all too visible in statistics on jobs, unemployment, benefits and ill health.

"The coalfields communities are seriously adrift of the national average. The job losses of the 1980s and 1990s still cast a very long shadow."

The report found there are only 50 jobs for every 100 adults of working age in the coalfields, which is significantly lower than the national average of 67, but in Ayrshire and Lanarkshire the figure drops to 37 per 100, the lowest in the country.

Peter McNestry, chairman of the Coalfields Regeneration Trust, said: "This report really brings home the scale of the ­deprivation that has been faced by 5.5 million people, more than Scotland's total population.

"What's more, these coalfields communities have had to endure this for well over a quarter of a century.

"The tough reality for coalfields residents is that these problems will not go away overnight."

A spokesman for the pressure group Coal Action Scotland also raised concerns over the opencast mining industry in such communities.

He said: "Many of the areas covered in the report, and certainly in Scotland, were subsequently subjected to years of opencast mining, which has only heightened the economic and social deprivation of coalfield communities in East Ayrshire, Lanarkshire and Fife.

"Instead of seeing the economic benefits and local employment promised by opencast operators, and indeed used to justify support for opencast from local authorities, communities have seen further decline and damage to the land around them.

"They now face years of ­uncertainly over unrestored ­opencast sites."