Shift in wealth divides rich South and poor North

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The Independent Online
England has become a country starkly divided between the rich South and the poor North, according to a detailed study of 56 million households.

A broad band of poverty runs from Merseyside into Greater Manchester and parts of South Yorkshire and Tyneside, while a crescent of wealth sweeps up from the south coast and curves around poor areas of inner-city London into East Anglia and the Cotswolds. In the swath of affluence, people enjoy better education, health care, employment prospects, child care and living conditions.

A doctor in Richmond, south-west London, might have 20 patients on the books with long-term illness, compared with 600 in Corby, Northamptonshire or 400 in Easington, Co Durham, for example.

The report, by the School for Advanced Urban Studies (SAUS) at Bristol University, provides evidence of the marked difference in the social conditions of the rich and the poor. It is based upon an analysis of the 1991 Census data and also identifies often-ignored small pockets of rural poverty - such as parts of Cornwall, Kent, Northumbria and Cumbria.

It shows a shift in wealth and the middle classes that mirrors the decline of the manufacturing industries during the Eighties and the advance of information technologies.

Men on the scrap heap - those aged over 55, unemployed and with few prospects but below retirement age - tend to be concentrated in the declining industrial North.

By contrast, the City of London, Richmond and the South-east have the highest earners and a more highly educated population - around 30 per cent in the City, Richmond and Cambridge have degrees compared with fewer than 2 per cent in Corby, Easington and Knowsley, Merseyside.

In Merseyside, Greater Manchester and Tyneside, and inner-city London, many children - 46 per cent in Tower Hamlets, east London - are growing up in households solely dependent upon benefit. In mid-Sussex and south Cambridgeshire, where parents are generally older, it is less than 6 per cent.

The chances of these deprived children finding employment are slimmer than those of their more affluent southern contemporaries as youth unemployment is also very high in these areas. In inner-city London, Manchester and Liverpool for every 100 young people in work there are 60 or more out of work compared with fewer than 10 in mid-Sussex or the Chilterns.

Poverty is also found in pockets across England, and amid the affluent South-east, where the divide is most evident. The City of Westminster and the City of London have a fifth of properties vacant or classified as second homes but also the highest levels of housing need.

David Gordon, one of the report's authors, said: "Britain is a much more polarised society than it was 10 years ago [when the last Census was taken], with distinct areas of wealth and poverty. Yet there seems to be a denial that poverty ever existed. TheGovernment always looks towards Mr and Mrs Average, but it is at the extremes where things are happening."

He said that as a first step politicians should look at the way resources - particularly for health care and social security benefit - are allocated.

The report confirms earlier research that fewer people are working longer hours. But it is not just those in the City attending working breakfasts and late night meetings. Those working in the country, on the land and in the holiday trade put in long hours for little pay.

For the first time the study seeks to identify the free or "hidden" economy - the people who do unpaid caring work, primarily women looking after dependent families. The map shows concentrations on the rural south and east coasts.

"Cornwall, for example, contains a high proportion of those working long hours, on low wages, serviced by a substantial unpaid labour in the free economy," says the report.

It finds a "clear message". "The 1991 census shows that England remains a nation of immense social and economic differences. This atlas provides ample evidence for the existence of social polarisation.

"Problems of employment, poverty and ill health are concentrated in the major cities, the depressed industrial North and in the forgotten corners of England. By contrast, areas of affluence and privilege are found in the extended suburban South-east. These patterns suggest a country divided, rather than at ease with itself."

t People and Places 2: Social and economic distinctions in England; SAUS Publications, University of Bristol; £19.95

THE JOBLESS MALE The study found that most of those men over 55 and unemployed or on government schemes were concentrated in the older industrial districts that have suffered most from manufacturing decline - such as the Midlands, Tyneside and Merseyside. In Sunderland and Easington, about one third in that catergory were "on the scrapheap".

Tower Hamlets, one of the most deprived areas of London, came top with 34.5 per cent. The lowest-ranked 50 districts that had more than 80 per cent of people aged 55 or over in employment are concentrated in the commuter belt around London. None is in the North.

INVISIBLE WORKERS This map is the first to show the free or hidden economy - mainly unpaid service and caring work carried out by women. Remote rural areas, retirement areas and resorts tended to show high levels of such work, involving up to 37 per centof people The figures were drawn up by estimating how many people spend most of their time doing caring work or looking after the family. "The map has a distinctly rural and coastal flavour with a strong concentration in Cornwall, Devon, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, and Parts of Yorkshire," the study concludes. The free economy is least significant in the City of London.

GEOGRAPHY OF HEALTH The study concluded that the best places to be sick were primarily in the affluent South. It found long-term illnesses were concentrated in north-east England, coinciding with areas of poverty, resorts and retirement areas. Yet, resources did not necessarily follow.

The study based its findings upon the numbers of people with long-term illnesses, health problems or disability and the numbers of health care professionals in their area. In Corby, there were nearly 600 chronically sick to one health care worker; in Cambridge, 21 to one. Among big cities, Newcastle, at 26 per health worker, had a notably low ratio.