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.


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.


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".

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Life and Style
love + sex
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle 0 Man United 1: Last minute strike seals precious victory
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Seth Rogan is one of America’s most famous pot smokers
filmAmy Pascal resigned after her personal emails were leaked following a cyber-attack sparked by the actor's film The Interview
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
Life and Style
A statue of the Flemish geographer Gerard Kremer, Geradus Mercator (1512 - 1594) which was unveiled at the Geographical Congree at Anvers. He was the first person to use the word atlas to describe a book of maps.
techThe 16th century cartographer created the atlas
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: UI / UX Designer

    £25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm are focussed on assis...

    Recruitment Genius: General Processor

    £7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A vacancy has arisen for a General Processor ...

    Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - B2B

    £18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

    Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

    £14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
    Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

    What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

    Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
    The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

    Setting in motion the Internet of Things

    British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
    Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

    Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

    Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
    Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

    Cult competition The Moth goes global

    The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
    Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

    Pakistani women come out fighting

    Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
    Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

    Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

    The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
    LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

    Education: LGBT History Month

    Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
    11 best gel eyeliners

    Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

    Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

    After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot