Critically analyse the government’s well-publicised claims that the North-South divide is a myth, and that ‘the disparity within regions is at least as great as that between them By the end of the twentieth century, the decline the manufacturing sector had produced an apparent North South divide within the UK. To dispel these claims the government issued a report under the title ‘Sharing the Nations Prosperity’ which outlined, what it claimed, were the major disparities within the country.
This essays aims to firstly give an indication of the probable causes for the North-South divide, before outlining the significant points laid out by the government report. These points will then be criticised with reference to other sources of information on regional differences within the UK. Before delving into the intricacies of the question, it is important to clarify what is actually meant by the concept of the North-South divide, and where it originates.
Firstly, it is important to note the fact that there has almost always been a divide through the country. This can be observed in the economic growths of most western countries’ developments, areas of natural resource being important during industrialisation and areas of high-level academia and population being important during more consumer based, service providing periods. It is well documented that through the 19th century, leading up to the outbreak of the First World War, that the North was considered the more dynamic and prosperous region of Britain.
Lewis and Townsend point out that this dominance was ‘forged by the Industrial revolution of the late 18th century, centred on cotton in Lancaster, and later reinforced by the growth of key export-based industries such as shipbuilding, engineering, coal mining and textiles (Lewis & Townsend, p. 22). It is fact in this period that Manchester began to emerge as the ‘capital of the North’ instead of York. Even more significantly, its population had increased by a factor of 3. 5 between 1780 to 1831, and in many ways appeared to eclipse London during that period (Smith, P. 12).
After 1914 other western countries had begun to catch up Britain’s level of industrialisation, so even areas such as the chemical industry, which Britain had pioneered, se found countries like Germany and the United States storm past. By this period, Britain only accounted for 11% of world output, compared to Germany’s 24% and the US’s 34% (Smith, P. 18). It was around this period that Britain commenced de-industrialisation, which would be one the main factors in the emergence of a North-South Divide. It is safe to say that with De-Industrialisation the amount of available employment in the manufacturing industry greatly declined as well.
This became more apparent during the depressions in the inter-war period, and also seemed to contrast to that of the increase in service sector jobs and consumer based mass production, like that of televisions in the south. It is in fact the difference in manufacturing type labour, and the dependency on manufacturing, that assisted in emphasising the divide between the North and South. Whereas much of the North incorporated unskilled, manual labour in resource acquisition, the majority of southern occupations in manufacturing were centred around domestic consumption and more specialised.
In addition, the emergence of industries like the tourist industry were almost exclusive to the South. Consequently, cities like Liverpool were affected very deeply by the decline in manufacturing. , this was mainly due to the type of manufacturing industry being carried out there e. g. shipbuilding. Liverpool lost one-half of its manufacturing jobs between 1978 and 1984, representing almost a third of total job losses during the period (Armstrong ; Taylor, P. 5).
By the beginning of the 1980’s the manufacturing decline had reached its peak and when Thatcher began cutting assisted funding to Northern Regions of large deprivation, the apparent effect of the decline became much more pronounced. Coupled with the rejection of the Keysian concept of full employment as a key governmental value, the contrast between Northern and Southern regions became painfully clear. It was at this point when there became clear pressure from the public over what was seen as an issue that government should try to address.
All of this leads to question of whether the North-South divide still exists today, and if so is it as clear-cut as many argue. Firstly, there is the issue of how the government refutes the claim that there is a North-South divide. This is a claim, which appeared during 1999, and was backed up by a Government driven report under the name ‘Sharing the Nation’s Prosperity’. The report outlines some specific aspects of British regions in an attempt to show that ‘the disparity within regions is at least as great as that between them.
‘ This is illustrated in numerous ways, but the main angle seems be confined to showing that in most social aspects, even within the supposedly least deprived Southern regions there are still areas within them that rate less well than those in the North. There are some classic examples of this disparity within the report. GDP in York was as high as 127 (100 being UK average), compared to that of only 74 for East Sussex in the South East. The ILO unemployment rate in county Durham measured only 6. 5%, whereas in Portsmouth it was 8. 4%.
Interestingly, the report covers huge areas of Britain’s social growth to demonstrate how much diversity there can be within each region. Merseyside has one of the most serious concentrations of unemployment and social exclusion in Europe, yet neighbouring Cheshire has the fifth highest GDP per capita in England. This is significant because of Liverpool’s prominence as an important manufacturing company up until the 1980’s. There are some interesting facts about the South-West. While Bristol and Plymouth both exhibit above average quality of life, both contain areas of inner city deprivation.
What is most striking though is the contrast between some of the more remote areas of the South West. Although set in some of the country’s most picturesque surroundings large areas of Exeter, Somerset and Devon find themselves with very little local economy, outside essential consumer services and self employed businesses (of which the South West is second only to London), and a small amount of tourism. Cornwall, up until the opening of the Eden project allowed for the creation of numerous jobs and tourism, had the lowest earnings and GDP of any English county.
One of the report’s more significant findings focuses on the huge disparity within London. At first glance London looks very prosperous, it has by far the country’s highest GDP (over 400 in Inner West London), has more cultural, sport, heritage sites than the next five biggest UK cities put together. Yet with all this wealth and supposed prosperity London also contains 13 of the 20 most deprived districts in the country. In fact, over two thirds of London Districts are shown to lie on the 50 most deprived areas.