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North–South divide in the United Kingdom

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Title: North–South divide in the United Kingdom  
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Subject: Distribution of wealth, Unemployment in the United Kingdom, Geography of the United Kingdom, Economy of the United Kingdom, North–South divide (England)
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North–South divide in the United Kingdom

In Great Britain, the term North–South divide refers to the perceived economic and cultural differences between Southern England and the rest of Great Britain (Northern England, Wales and Scotland). The divide cuts through the English Midlands. Sometimes, the term is widened to include the whole United Kingdom, with Northern Ireland included as part of "the North".

In political terms, the South, and particularly the South-East (outside inner London), is largely centre-right, and supportive of the Conservative Party, while the North (particularly the towns and cities) is generally more supportive of the Labour Party as well as, in Scotland, the SNP. Support for the Liberal Democrats, and for many of the smaller parties, is generally more equally spread out. There is some criticism of this analysis in the West Country which has consistently provided a solid base for the Liberal Democrats, and also in places (particularly parts of Bristol, Devon, and Cornwall) which suffer from many of the same economic problems as the North.


The North-South divide is not an exact line, but one that can involve many stereotypes, presumptions and other impressions of the surrounding region relative to other regions.

The existence of the North-South divide is fiercely contested. Some sources claim it exists but also that it is even expanding. For example, a report in 2001 found that North East England, North West England and Scotland had poorer health levels than South.[1]

The same data have been interpreted otherwise to indicate only a very small difference.[2]

Indeed, results are highly dependent on the categories chosen for evaluation. As a generalisation, the following tend to indicate that there is some sort of north-south divide:

  • Health conditions, which are generally seen as being worse in the north,[3][4] though spending on health care is higher [5]
  • House prices, which are higher in the south, particularly the South-East.[6]
  • Earnings, which are higher in the south and east.[7]
  • Government spending per person on drivers of growth such as transport, infrastructure and R&D, which is far higher in the South-East.[8][9]
  • Government expenditure per person, which is higher (both in gross terms and relative to tax revenues), in the North than the South; largely to fund universal benefits as a result of higher unemployment.[10]
  • Political influence.[11]
  • Devolution of powers to local government. London has a directly elected mayor with control over public transport whilst most Northern cities do not have mayors and have transport policies decided by the UK government.

However, many middle-class and affluent areas are located near most major cities north of the divide, and conversely there are pockets of large deprivation in the south. A report into wealth by Barclays Bank also highlighted the anomaly that the wealthiest parliamentary constituency outside London is actually Sheffield Hallam.[12]

This has led some commentators to suggest that other divisions, such as class[13] or ethnicity might be more important.[14]

There is also controversy as to what constitutes the South given that it extends much farther horizontally than the North of the country; some commentators have placed the West Country (in this case, Bristol,[15] Somerset, Devon and Cornwall) into a region of its own because the poverty in some of these areas is often as widespread as it is in the North, and political support is also focused on the usually widespread Liberal Democrats.


The North has been generally perceived as being supportive of Labour as well as in Scotland the SNP and the South being generally supportive of the Conservatives. During the 1980s, Labour councils in the North were often openly dismissive of any orders from the Thatcher government. Examples include Liverpool under the Militant tendency and Sheffield under David Blunkett. Furthermore, after the 2010 General election, the Conservatives held only one seat in Scotland and none in the major cities of Newcastle, Manchester, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Hull, Sheffield and Liverpool, all of which were dominated by Labour. The Conservatives hold two seats in Leeds.

See also


  1. ^ Doran, Tim; Drever, Frances; Whitehead, Margaret (1 May 2004). "Is there a north-south divide in social class inequalities in health in Great Britain? Cross sectional study using data from the 2001 census". Retrieved 2006-07-16. 
  2. ^  
  3. ^ Carvel, John (11 November 2005). "Wide life expectancy gap between rich and poor". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2006-07-16. 
  4. ^ Meikle, James (6 July 2005). "Cancer atlas reveals north-south divide". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2006-07-16. 
  5. ^ 
  6. ^ "UK House Prices". BBC News. 8 May 2006. Retrieved 2006-07-16. 
  7. ^ Carvel, John (10 November 2005). "North-south, east-west wealth divides in survey". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2006-07-16. 
  8. ^ "Transport spend per head is £2,700 for London but £5 per head in North East". IPPR North. 19 December 2011. 
  9. ^ "Northern prosperity is national prosperity: A strategy for revitalising the UK economy". IPPR North, NEFC. 29 November 2012. 
  10. ^ Doughty, Steve (12 October 2007). "The REAL north-south divide How South East bankrolling Britain". London: The Daily Mail. 
  11. ^ Elliott, Larry (5 July 2004). "The United Kingdom of London". The Guardian. Retrieved 2006-07-16. 
  12. ^ "'"Wealth hotspots 'outside London. BBC News. 7 July 2004. 
  13. ^ Ahmed, Kamal (10 November 2002). "Britain's class divide starts even before nursery school". London: The Observer. Retrieved 2006-07-16. 
  14. ^ "Making a difference: Tackling poverty - a progress report" (PDF). Department for Work and Pensions. March 2006. Retrieved 2006-07-16. 
  15. ^ Clark, Dave (15 July 2011). "Mr". Retrieved 15 July 2011. 
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