North-south house price divide greater than ever

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Big differences in the rise of house prices and a gulf in earnings around the country prove the persistence of the North-South divide.

Big differences in the rise of house prices and a gulf in earnings around the country prove the persistence of the North-South divide.

Figures released yesterday by the Office for National Statistics show the difference in house prices between north and south is becoming acute - with a rise of 17 per cent in a year in London, compared with increases of between six and seven per cent in the North-east, North-west, Yorkshire, the Humber and the East Midlands.

The much-publicised complaint that professional people such as teachers and nurses are having trouble finding accommodation in London seems vindicated. In 1998-99, it cost more than twice as much to buy a property in the capital city than in the North.

Average property prices in London were £150,000, compared with a national average of £94,600 - while Northern prices were closer to £64,000.

The Regional Trends report, which gives a social snapshot of Britain, also uncovered stark regional variation in drinking habits. One of the more remark-able findings of the report, says its co-editor Gwyneth Edwards, was that people in Northern Ireland drink far less than anyone else in the UK.

"Almost half of men and three-fifths of women in Northern Ireland said they had not had an alcoholic drink in the week prior to the interview," she said, "which is far higher than in any other region."

She says the health gap between north and south is slowly closing - but that deaths from circulatory diseases, such as strokes and heart attacks, remain much higher in the north.

The contrast is particularly striking for women. In 1998, mortality rates from heart disease among women in the four northern NHS regions and Scotland were all above 200 per 100,000 population, while in the southern English regions the rates were all below 180.

The earnings gap between north and south is broadly unchanged, with average weekly earnings for households in London being the highest in the UK, at £523, compared with the national average of £430.

The North-east of England and Northern Ireland have the lowest weekly earnings, at £357 and £347, respectively.

The report provides no definitive answer on where is the best place to live. However, the East of England region, from Norfolk in the north to Epping Forest in the south, does perform particularly well overall.

Crime is low, at 7,000 offences per 100,000 population against a national average of 9,700 and a high of 12,300 for London. The employment rate is the second-highest in the UK, and exam results in schools are better than the national average. Almost one-eighth of the total area is Green Belt land and six per cent is designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

The downside, says Ms Edwards, comes in property prices, which are slightly above the national average.

The report confirms many commonly held perceptions - Scotland, for instance, has established a particularly good record in education. But it also throws up lesser-known images. The South-west, says Ms Edwards, has the worst illegal drugs figures outside of London.

Londoners, unsurprisingly, take the longest time getting to work, although, the average journey time is a surprisingly short 35 minutes. South-westerners take the least time -under 20 minutes.