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Thursday, 24 August, 2000, 02:03 GMT 03:03 UK
Focus on North-South 'divide'

By BBC industry correspondent Stephen Evans

Is there or is there not a "North-South divide" in Britain? The debate has been rumbling on for six months after ministers from the Prime Minister down said describing Britain in such a way was simplistic.

Ministers argued that Cheshire is the prosperous neighbour of down-at-heel Merseyside.

They pointed out that rejuvenated Cardiff is a short ride from the desperately poor South Wales Valleys.

And they commented that the citizens of the well-heeled parts of Edinburgh can see some of the poorest parts of Europe from their elegant homes.

The Pay Divide
Average weekly pay in London - 500
Average weekly pay in Nth East - 350
On the other hand, ministers observed that Cornwall and inner London endure some of the greatest poverty in Britain.

All of which is true - but not quite the whole truth.

A look at the figures reveals stark differences between the North (which for these purposes is the North of England, Wales and Scotland - Northern Ireland is a special case) and the South East of England.

The average weekly income in London is about 500 compared with 350 in the North East of England.

Unemployment last year in South East England was 3.6 per cent of the available workforce, much lower than in North East England, at 10 per cent, Wales (7.1 per cent) and Scotland (7.4 per cent).

In North East England, a third of all households claim Council Tax Benefit. The figure is slightly lower in Wales and Scotland, while in South East England it is only 15 per cent.

So the differences are there. The debate beyond that is about the effects. Earlier in the week, Oxford Economic Forecasting said the divide would widen but with over-crowding in the South East choking back some of the effects.

The reasoning is that people will not be able to migrate from South to North so easily as house-prices rise in the South and fall in the North.

The Jobs Divide
South East jobless - 3.6 per cent
North East jobless - 10 per cent
Wales jobless - 7.1 per cent
Scotland jobless - 7.4 per cent
But a report just published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation throws an interesting light on movements within Britain.

People are not leaving the North and heading South, the report concludes. It is movements within regions which are important.

The report says the population of the South-East outside London will increase dramatically but much of the rise will be from people moving out of London.

And on the North, it says: "At the city level, in the 1990s there was a net migration of about 40, 000 people annually out of the Northern and Midlands conurbations to the rest of the country."

"In the worst affected urban areas, the result is the local abandonment of existing homes. But this movement has been principally to other parts of the same region rather than to the South."

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See also:

22 Aug 00 | Business
North-south divide 'getting bigger'
21 Aug 00 | Business
The rise and rise of the South
21 Aug 00 | Business
Outlook gloomy for North East
19 Apr 00 | UK Politics
MPs highlight north-south divide
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