The regions: How is it for you? Depends where you live

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The Independent Online

The two greatest economic threats to any family are unemployment and a collapse in the value of their main financial asset, their home. Together they can mean destitution. On both counts the disparity between the best and worst-off regions in the UK could not be starker. The long boom that ended in 2007 disguised it to some degree; now things have reverted to the pattern that first emerged in the 1980s; a depressed North and Midlands, and a prosperous, relatively unscathed South-east.

Unemployment has generally risen fastest where it was already fairly high – the North-east and South Wales in particular. Scotland, however, has reversed its traditional position towards the bottom, as the economy has successfully refocused from the old industries, though its banks are a source of weakness, if not embarrassment.

Last year the West Midlands, still home to much engineering, had the unenviable record of the worst unemployment in the UK, at more than 10 per cent, though a manufacturing bounce-back has seen the North-east back on top.

London presents a special case; boroughs such as Tower Hamlets contain some of the poorest districts in the whole of Europe, but the capital also attracts huge wealth from abroad. Surveys suggest Wales and the Midlands will be in for the steepest drops in house values in 2011, but only the top end of the London market will be immune from some correction.

Unusual factors also affect Northern Ireland. The crash in the Republic, especially in its property market, has had a baleful effect on the province. House prices fell by almost 6 per cent from Aril to June alone. Paradoxically the Troubles helped protect Northern Ireland from previous spending cuts; it may be less immune now.

Margie Arts, 67: 'A loaf of bread now costs £1'

Retired lollipop lady, Barrow-in-Furness

"This Government has allowed the bankers and big business folk to get away with large payments for doing dastardly doings. Now our local council is faced with making cuts in services because of reductions in payments from the Government.

Already we, pensioners and disabled people, are being restricted to the national minimum in bus travel. We will be faced, once again, with the heat or eat dilemma because our Christmas heating allowance will be reduced to the 2008 figures even though fuel prices are increasing.

Grocery shopping gets more and more expensive with basics increasing by a few pence almost every time we shop. The loaf of bread that cost us 60p last year is over a £1 now."

Jane Hollow: 'People don't have spare cash'

Sells garden plants for nurseries, Plymouth

"They picked up such a poisoned chalice. The VAT increase to 20 per cent will begin to damage businesses. I'm going to have to be flexible with my prices but whether my customers will now buy half the amount of roses they would have bought, I don't know. There is a large luxury market but people don't have the spare money so it is all those sorts of things which will be cut into.

I'm of pensionable age but I'm not retiring. While I can keep working, I will. They say that the pension age will go up, but it already has here."

Kay Wilkinson, 34: 'I feel the North/South divide'

Mother of two, Pendle

"I didn't vote them in, I was in favour of the Government doing smaller cuts but they have done exactly what they said with the larger cuts. The children's ward of Burnley general has already been moved to Blackburn. There is a small hospital nearby which if they close would be horrendous.

Rushing the children to A&E at silly 'o clock would be worrying. I think the impact on the NHS generally is frightening.

Living in this area, I do feel there is a North/South divide, a divide between rich and poor that Cameron doesn't understand. They favour those who are rich."

Michael Wager, 25: 'I sympathise with Cameron'

Insurance worker, Gloucester

"The coalition Government couldn't have got a more difficult time period to deal with unemployment but I think they have come up with some good ideas. I voted for the Liberal Democrats but Cameron has been better than I expected. He is attempting to reposition Britain in its global place, he's more realistic that we need to tighten bonds with Europe. We're not the force we once were."

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