North-South health divide 'kills thousands every year'

The health divide between the North and South of the country is at its widest for 40 years and is claiming the lives of tens of thousands of people before their time, a study has found.

Every year 37,000 people – enough to fill a football stadium – die in the North earlier than their counterparts in the South. But all efforts to narrow the gap have failed. Premature deaths before the age of 75 are a fifth higher in the North, and the gap has changed little since the 1960s. It even widened between 2000 and 2008 despite government expenditure of £20bn on initiatives supposed to close it.

The divide has persisted despite large improvements in health in all regions of the country over the past 40 years. Death rates have fallen by 50 per cent in men and 40 per cent in women since 1965, with both the North and South seeing similar reductions. But the North has never caught up with the South and, in the last decade, seems to be slipping further behind.

Researchers warned yesterday that the excess toll of ill health and disability in the North was "decimating [the region] at the rate of one major city every decade". It is certain to get worse as the effects of the recession are felt disproportionately in the North.

Iain Buchan, professor of public health informatics at the University of Manchester, who led the study, which was published online in the British Medical Journal, said that genetic, climatic and environmental differences could "in no way" account for the gap.

Rather than pinning the blame on differences in lifestyle such as smoking and drinking, the key factor behind the gap was money, he said. "The counter-intuitive fact is that the behavioural differences we can measure account for just one fifth of the gap. The difference in smoking, for example, accounts for only 14 per cent [of the northern excess deaths]. But there is a large body of evidence that shows that the amount of disposable income has a much greater effect.

"Social and economic factors are extremely reliable predictors of health. If you put more resources into an area, or take them out, its health will improve or decline. It would be unheard of for economic growth not to translate into better health."

The health divide mirrors the income disparity between North and South, the researchers say. The "gross value added per head" – a measure of the state of the local economy – was 40 per cent higher in the South than the North in 2008, having risen from 25 per cent in 1989.

The cash people had to spend – their "disposable income" – was more than 26 per cent higher in the South, up from 21 per cent in 1995, even after allowing for the higher cost of living. Professor Buchan said the North-South divide had persisted since 1066 and reflected a London-centric nation with power and money concentrated in the South for the last 1,000 years. Benjamin Disraeli wrote that England was a tale of two countries and William Farr, the 19th-century epidemiologist and founder of medical statistics, blamed the divide on the habit of healthier people in the North migrating to better-off areas in the South, leaving their sickly peers behind.

Migration may still be a factor maintaining the divide but is unlikely to be a major one, the researchers say. Spending on the NHS is inadequate in the North, relative to the high health needs. The Commons Public Accounts Committee accused the Government of failing to address the shortage of GPs in the North in its report on health inequalities last October. Two-thirds of the areas with the highest deprivation were failing to get the money they were due for dealing with excess ill health, it said.

Professor Buchan said the failure of the huge injection of funds by the previous Labour government to close the health gap demonstrated the difficulty of overcoming the social and economic forces driving North and South apart.

"We have to target business development in the North – the South is overworked. The challenge is to have an investment strategy to make the country less London-centric. If we want better health in the North it has to go hand in hand with social and economic change."

The North-South divide in numbers

House prices

The value of homes in the South rose last year, led by a 6.3 per cent increase in London. Average prices dipped in the North, with the North-east experiencing a 3.3 per cent fall, according to the Land Registry.

Income

In 2008, average disposable household income was £19,038 in London and £16,792 in the South-east, according to the Office for National Statistics. This was against £12,543 in the North-east. London households earned more than 28 per cent over the national average in 2008.

Unemployment

In the 12 months ending June 2010, the highest unemployment rate in Britain was in Kingston-upon-Hull, East Yorkshire, at 14 .1 per cent, followed by Blaenau Gwent in Wales at 13.8 per cent. The region with the narrowest spread of unemployment rates was the South-west, where the highest rate of unemployment was found in Torbay, at 8.8 per cent.

Shops lying vacant

The Local Data Company described a "large and growing" divide. In 2010, 90 per cent of the top 25 large towns with the highest vacancies were in the Midlands or North, with 28 per cent of stores in Rotherham vacant. Big shopping centres in London and the South-east were said to be "holding up well".

News
scienceExcitement from alien hunters at 'evidence' of extraterrestrial life
Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
News
newsRyan Crighton goes in search of the capo dei capi
Arts and Entertainment
Actors front row from left, Jared Leto, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Ellen DeGeneres, Bradley Cooper, Peter Nyongío Jr., and, second row, from left, Channing Tatum, Julia Roberts, Kevin Spacey, Brad Pitt, Lupita Nyongío and Angelina Jolie as they pose for a
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Sport
sport
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Voices
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
Life and Style
Horst P Horst mid-fashion shoot in New York, 1949
fashionFar-reaching retrospective to celebrate Horst P Horst's six decades of creativity
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Life and Style
news

As Voltaire once said, “Ice cream is exquisite. What a pity it isn’t illegal”

Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Service Desk Analyst- Desktop Support, Helpdesk, ITIL

    £20000 - £27000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

    Service Desk Analyst - (Active Directory, Support, London)

    £25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst - (Active Di...

    Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

    £30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

    Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Learning, SQL, VBA)

    £30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...

    Day In a Page

    All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
    What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

    What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

    Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
    Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

    Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

    Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
    Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

    Radio 1’s new top ten

    The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
    Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

    Florence Knight's perfect picnic

    Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
    Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

    Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

    The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
    Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

    Mark Hix's summery soups

    Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
    Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

    Tim Sherwood column

    I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
    Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

    Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

    The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition