Divide narrowing as the South gets (a little) poorer

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The Independent Online
The UK is slowly becoming more homogeneous, while still retaining distinctive regional quirks, according to the latest edition of Regional Trends.

The narrowing of the North/South divide, which began with the 1990 recession continued in 1994, the report shows. Disposable income per head fell in the South-East and in Greater London after a small recovery in 1993, while it continued to rise in Scotland, Northern Ireland, the North, Yorkshire and Humberside and the East Midlands, which overtook the West Midlands as the region which makes the largest share of its living from manufacturing.

Longer-term trends also suggest that regional divides are narrowing. Since the early 1970s, the birth rate has become more equal across the country, as has infant mortality, which used to be higher in the North, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Most regions are now much closer to the UK average, with the exception of the South-East where infant mortality remains lowest.

Since the mid-1980s household size across the regions has become more equal as has the proportion of owner-occupiers. The biggest difference has been seen in Scotland. In 1981, only 36 per cent of Scots were owner- occupiers with over half living in council or new-town housing. But by 1994, the figures had turned round. Fifty-seven per cent of Scots were owner- occupiers, as opposed to about two-thirds for the UK as a whole.

Although Scotland still has the highest proportion of council housing, at 33 per cent, the difference between it and the rest of the UK was much smaller than before.

The proportion of 16-year-olds staying in education has also narrowed between the regions, as has the ownership of household goods, including washing machines, videos and central heating.

Explaining such changes is highly complex, Alison Holding, Regional Trends associate editor said yesterday. "But the policy pursued by both central government and the private sector of relocating out of London may have something to do with it. That, in turn, has probably been made possible by better communications" - mainly better telecommunications, which included the fax revolution, networked computers, video links and mobile phones, as well as improved transport.

Regional Trends, however, shows much diversity remains. In the North, for example, more than three in 10 men drank more than the recommended sensible level - the highest for any region. In the North-West, more women than men now smoke - the only region where that is true. Council tenants in Yorkshire and Humberside enjoy the lowest rents and the region has highest proportion of microwaves and washing machines in the country.

Women in the East Midlands in full-time work do the longest hours for the lowest pay. But people in the region were the most likely to take a holiday in 1995. At 60 per cent, the region also recorded the highest proportion of new cars registered as company cars.

In East Anglia, fewer women smoked than in any other region, but one in seven drank more than the recommended amount, a figure beaten only in Yorkshire and Humberside. Scotland continued to have a better record of exam passes at 16 than the rest ofBritain. Northern Ireland was the only region in 1995 to see a sharp increase in house prices.

Regional Trends 31, 1996. HMSO pounds 35.95