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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 September 2005, 15:24 GMT 16:24 UK
UK 'is still divided and unequal'
Elderly man
The gap between rich and poor is still wide, the report says

Social, economic and geographical inequalities are still firmly entrenched in the UK, according to a report funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

The four authors of the report, from the universities of Bristol, Edinburgh, and Sheffield, say that the rich and poor still live in very different worlds, despite 60 years of the modern welfare state.

Their main conclusion is that poor people who have the greatest need for good health care, education, jobs, housing and transport still find it hardest to get access to these things.

"Schemes to provide greater health and education provision, where it is needed, are not working," said one of the authors, Professor Danny Dorling of Sheffield University.

"We have been trying for 60 years. But we still haven't got there and there is no evidence we are getting any closer," he said.

Health inequality

Basing their analysis on data freshly gleaned from the 2001 Census, the researchers have published reports on 10 areas of life.

With 50 or more years of the NHS we still see this inequality
Dr Mary Shaw, Bristol University

They touch on topics such as access to the health and education services, the extent of informal health care provided by friends and relatives, the effect of second homes in rural or coastal areas, and the increase in the number of households that own three or more cars.

For instance, the researchers found that the "inverse care law" is still very much in operation. This refers to the idea that places with the highest levels of poor health still have the lowest number of hospital doctors, GP and dentists living and even working in those areas.

Another of the report's authors, Dr Mary Shaw of Bristol University, said: "With 50 or more years of the NHS we still see this inequality. It's such a persistent pattern that more imaginative policies are needed to tackle it."

Informal care uncovered

For the first time the scale of the informal health service has been measured. The Census statistics reveal that in 2001 5.9 million friends and relatives were providing care or support to other people.

And of those doing so, 1.2 million were giving more than 50 hours a week of this care.

However, there was a strong geographical link between this provision and the need for it.

"The NHS is supposed to provide care at the point of need. But in fact friends and family are doing this," said Professor Dorling.

An inverse education law also appears to apply, the report found. Those parts of the country with the greatest proportions of youngsters who have no educational qualifications also have the lowest numbers of working teachers per head of population.

But areas which have only one-third the national rate of unqualified young people have four times the density of teachers.

New inequalities

When the Beveridge report led to the establishment of the welfare stare after the Second World war, it identified the country's main problem as disease, ignorance, squalor, idleness and want.

Since then new inequalities have arisen. Back in 1945 few people owned a car. Now most households do - but some more than others.

The 2001 Census reveals that there are now about one million homes which own three or more cars.

This phenomenon is most common in Buckinghamshire, Wokingham, West Berkshire, Windsor & Maidenhead, and Surrey. In these places more than 10% of households have three cars or more.

Intriguingly two-thirds of them had no more than two employed people in the household. And one in five consisted of a either a couple or just one person - in other words more cars than people.

On the other hand there are also about one million households in the UK with young children who do not own a car at all.

And these households were most common in poor urban areas such as Glasgow, Middlesbrough and Kingston upon Hull.

Second home owners

One of the most common beliefs about housing is that those who own second or holiday homes, in rural or coastal areas, are crowding out local would-be home owners by driving up property prices.

Hawes in Yorkshire
Second home ownership is restricted in the Yorkshire Dales

The Census counted 185,000 unoccupied second or holiday homes.

Dr Shaw believes the 2001 survey provides some statistical evidence that locals have indeed been priced out of the property market.

"Areas with high numbers of holiday homes have a much higher proportion of older people, those aged 35 or over, who are renting from private landlords." she said.

Social inequality has been studied ever since Friedrich Engels wrote in 1844 about the conditions of the English working classes.

But despite the obvious and vast improvements in all conditions of life since then, Professor Danny Dorling believes that examining inequalities is still very important.

"It is obvious to some people - but not the government - that geographical inequalities are widening in general, which means their policies aren't working. I really think the government thought the country would become more equal."

A spokesperson for the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister welcomed the report but said: "The lives of hundreds of thousands of families and children in the UK have been improved in recent years. The government's investment and reform programme is delivering."

"However we recognise that significant challenges remain. In particular that some of the most disadvantaged groups with the most complex needs, have not benefited as much as others." the spokesperson added.

"Life in Britain: Using millennial Census data to understand poverty, inequality and place" by Ben Wheeler, Mary Shaw, Richard Mitchell and Danny Dorling is published by the Policy Press.

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