The North/South Divide

For a long time, there has been a recognised political, economic and social ‘gap’ between the North and South of the UK. The imaginary line stretches from the Severn in Gloucestershire to The Wash in Norfolk, highlighting the disparities in wealth and opportunities across the country.

The UK has long had stark social differences between regions, with Parliament and the capital city located in the South.

Traditionally, the South has often been wealthier than the North, a disparity rooted in historical economic developments. Historically, the South, especially London and its surrounding areas, has been the centre of political power, finance, and trade, attracting more investment and infrastructure development. In contrast, the North’s economy was heavily reliant on industries like manufacturing and mining

However, this disparity worsened during the 1980s as deindustrialisation and privatisation were introduced by the Conservative government of the time. This took employment opportunities away from people in the North. The 1980s and 1990s saw strikes, unemployment and rising living costs, particularly affecting Northern communities.

Facts About the Divide

NorthSouth
In 2020, the average household gross disposable income was £17,995.In 2020, the average household gross disposable income was £30,318.
School pupils in the North generally receive lower grades.School pupils in the South are more likely to attend top universities.
The North tends to rely on the public sector for employment, which usually has fixed pay scales and fewer benefits.The South relies more on the private sector, which often offers higher pay and more benefits.
In 2022, unemployment in the Northeast was 5%.In 2022, unemployment in the Southeast was 3.2%.
In 2015, for every 12 jobs created in the South, only one was created in the North.

Average house prices:

  • London – £529,829
  • East England – £344,943
  • Northwest – £200,867
  • Northeast – £155,215

Strategies to Close the Divide

The North/South divide in the UK is not just a geographical separation but a deeply ingrained disparity affecting various aspects of life. This makes it a challenging problem to resolve. The UK government has initiated a process of devolution, granting additional powers and funding to Northern councils.

The Mayor of Manchester has received £1 billion in funds to improve the city, with the local council empowered to make decisions independently from London.

Local enterprise partnerships

These are collaborations between local authorities (councils) and businesses, where businesses are encouraged to invest in new ventures to boost the economy and create jobs where they are most needed.

For example, in 2019, the Humber LEP generated 6,000 new jobs by investing in infrastructure improvements, notably extending superfast broadband to 97% of the region.

Enterprise zones

These designated areas promote new business in areas with minimal pre-existing economic activity. The North has 25 enterprise zones, supported by the government through:

  • Tax and rent discounts
  • Grants for machinery
  • Simplified planning regulations

Northern powerhouse strategy

This involves investment in skills, innovation, transport and culture, along with the continued devolution of powers to local authorities and mayors.

For example, the Northern Spire Bridge in Sunderland cost £177 million. It is the first new road bridge in over 40 years, improving transport links across the River Wear, between Sunderland Port and the city centre.

HS2 rail

The controversial HS2 rail project aims to connect London with Birmingham and then extend to Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds. Once completed, it will significantly reduce travel times and help businesses become less reliant on proximity to London.

However, critics point to its escalating costs, which have soared beyond initial estimates, making it one of the most expensive railway projects per mile in the world. Also, there are significant environmental concerns, as its construction is leading to the destruction of ancient woodlands and wildlife habitats. This has sparked protests from environmental groups.

Some argue that the economic benefits are unevenly distributed and favour London over other regions, making regional inequalities even worse.