Britain's North-South Economic Divide

August 1, 2004

Nordicists like to dwell on Southern Italy's economic problems, attributing them to racial inferiority. But if "South of Rome lies Africa" (a common insult), then what lies North of Birmingham?

The North-South Divide

If you take a closer look at England you can see that there are great differences between the North and the South. The living standards in the South-East, South, South-West, East Anglia and the East Midlands are much better than in the peripheral areas. There are mutual prejudices between a complacent population in the south and a proud but aggrieved one in the north. But the divide goes well beyond mere prejudice. An undeniable contrast exists between the conditions of life in the North and in the South.

It gets very clear if you look at Horsham in the South with 2 per cent of unemployment and Greenock in the North with an unemployment rate of 17 per cent. During the period 1979-1987 over 90 per cent of the job losses had been north of the Severn-Wash-divide.

The high unemployment rates result from the decline of heavy industry (steel, coal, shipbuilding) in the second part of this century. It has hit the North more than other parts of England because during the Industrial revolution the North had developed into the country's major centre of heavy industry.

The divide is also noticeable in other things. The North for example has the highest death rate in England, the highest proportion of divorced men and the lowest proportion of 16-year-olds remaining in school.

There are exceptions to the general tendency, but on the whole the divide still exists. It is questionable, however, if the South, especially London, really benefits from the growing regional imbalance. The population density is very high and because of the industry there is bad pollution and the therefore peoples' health is threatened.


North-south divide 'getting worse'

BBC News, July 2003

The north-south economic divide in England is getting worse not better, MPs say.

Six regions are lagging behind the UK average, which is having a damaging effect on growth in Britain as a whole.


Some of the worst poverty, joblessness and bad health are concentrated in a few areas of the country.


"The differences between the economies of the English regions have continued to widen in recent years resulting in higher unemployment and shorter life expectancy in the North and escalating house prices and congestion in the South East," said Mr Bennett.

The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister said the government acknowledged there were "persistent disparities" in the regions' economic development.

"Output per person in the North East is nearly 40% or £7,000 below that of London."


Is there a north-south divide? (talking point)

BBC News, July 2004

Is there a north south divide?
1723 Votes Cast
Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion
Vote now closed


Of course there is a north-south divide and there has been for a long time. As long as the bulk of the financial and all the political power are concentrated in London, there will continue to be a divide. A highly London-centric media doesn't exactly help matters either. It would be hard to believe for an outside observer of our media that anything happens in Britain outside London except crime and deprivation.
— Ian, Edinburgh

I recently moved to the South East, having lived most of my life in the North of England - and I wouldn't go back. There were a number of reasons I wanted to come to the south - not least better wages, better career prospects, better leisure facilities and a better standard of living. My only regret is that I can't afford to buy a house down here...
— Irmani, Essex

Not so much a divide, more of a chasm! That's why I'm reading this web page in Dubai and not my native Newcastle!
— Phil Ritson, Dubai, U.A.E.

The North-South divide is definitely still here. I'm currently looking for a graduate or equivalent job which pays enough money to be able to manage loan/overdraft repayments and actually have some quality of life. I can find nothing in the north-east. I am stuck with a choice of either working for a pittance in a service industry up here, or going down south, where I'll only just be able to afford to live, but where the career prospects are much better. Is it any wonder that graduates and professionals are moving south?
— Dawn, Middlesbrough, UK

Judging from a lot of the replies on this forum the north-south divide seems to consist solely of moaning northerners assuming everyone in the south is a materialistic snob. And if you were building a rail terminal/sports stadium/airport would you put it closest to cities populated by millions of people who could actually use the facilities, or in the middle of nowhere? Stop whining northerners and do something to help regenerate your environment instead of expecting someone else to do it for you!
— Conrad, Reading

It is time for London to break away as its own state. London does not need the dependant north on its shoulders.
— Donal, Hackney, E London