North-south gap growing, says report
The economic gulf separating the north and south of Britain is widening, with the country’s poor becoming poorer, according to research published today.
The ‘unprecedented’ migration of skilled workers from the north to London between 1991and 2001 has resulted in a divided Britain, the study, carried out by the University of Sheffield, says.
People living in the south are likely to be better educated and earn more than their northern counterparts. They are also less likely to suffer from a long-term illness than those in the north, but have more doctors to treat them.
Professor Daniel Dorling, the report’s co-author, said: ‘Our conclusion is that the country is being split in half.
‘To the south is the metropolis of Greater London, to the north and west is the ‘archipelago of the provinces’ – city islands that appear to be slowly sinking demographically, socially and economically.
‘The UK is looking more and more like a city state. It is a kingdom united only by history, increasingly divided by its geography.’
The researchers used census data from 1991 and 2001 to produce an atlas of 500 maps tracing how a broad range of socio-economic trends have changed over the course of the decade.
They defined the north as all counties located north of Leicestershire, Warwickshire, Lincolnshire and Gloucestershire, with the exception of Wales, which is also classed as ‘northern’.
Yvette Cooper, the minister for regeneration and social exclusion in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, insisted that the government was taking steps to close the regional gap.
‘We are now seeing economic growth taking place in every region,’ she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. ‘We are also seeing unemployment falling faster in the most deprived districts than the national average, so we are seeing improvements taking place.
‘I certainly don’t think we should see the regional divide as being inevitable – quite the reverse. I think we should be doing something about it.’
Government efforts to close the poverty gap have also failed, the study found. Hackney and Tower Hamlets, the poorest local authority areas in 1991, remained the poorest 10 years later.
Almost half the households in those boroughs live in poverty – up 9% and 7.5% respectively on 1991. Outside the capital, Glasgow had the highest percentage (41%) of households living in poverty.
Tommy Sheridan, the Scottish Socialist party national convenor and MSP for Glasgow, said the findings were a ‘damning indictment’ of the failure of the Scottish Executive to tackle poverty.
He said: ‘Scottish Executive ministers are now going to have to explain to the people of Scotland why it is that they have opposed abolishing the council tax, the introduction of free school meals and the abolishing of prescription charges when these are measures which would make a very real start in tackling chronic poverty in Scotland.’
Meanwhile, the number of areas classified as being wealthy – the richest among them being Hart, in Hampshire, and south Buckinghamshire – has increased by 1.5% over the decade.
London has fuelled the south’s economic dominance, according to the report. More than 1.7 million jobs were created in the booming capital-based financial sector between 1991 and 2001, accelerating growth in the south-east.
However, skilled trade workers, based almost exclusively in the north, suffered the biggest decline of any sector over the same period, with a 500,000 drop in the workforce.
The capital’s economic success attracted increasing numbers of skilled young people to the city, with the total percentage of university graduates increasing from 16% in 1991 to 20% in 2001.
Most major cities outside London suffered a population decline, with Birmingham down 3%, Glasgow and Liverpool down 8% and Manchester down 10% over the course of the decade.
The number of people aged 16 and over suffering from a limited long-term illness, meanwhile, increased dramatically.
Figures rose from 6.7 million in 1991 to 10.3 million in 2001, with former mining towns in Wales and the north experiencing the biggest rises.
The study found that there are also more doctors in the south than the north, while residents of the south Wales boroughs of Gwent and Merthyr Tydfil have the lowest number of dentists. There, the ratio of dentists to people stands at 1:9370 compared to a national average of 1:2500.
Meanwhile, the highest concentration of people working in unskilled occupations was found in Corby, Northants, (9.8%), while the lowest was in the affluent London suburb of Richmond-upon-Thames (2.5%).
Source: Press Association