The North/South Divide: A Myth, Or Reality?
Every Thursday evening, a close-knit group of residents come together at the Shalom Youth Centre in Grimsby.
Their name is East Marsh United – a community-led group who want to improve the neighbourhood they live in, an area in the top one percentile of the United Kingdom’s most deprived.
Leading the meeting is Billy Dasein, the group’s founder and a born-and-bred local.
“Our area was overtaken by drugs gangs. There were young lads standing on the street corners, taking over the place. People were frightened to come out of their houses during the day, never mind at night,” he said.
“We just thought, nobody’s coming to rescue us from over the hill on a white charger, and we perhaps better do something ourselves.”
Over 80 MPs have grouped together to “reverse decades of underinvestment” in the North, demanding a £100 billion investment.
They wrote to the chancellor to urge the government to invest the money into improving transport links in the North. This would narrow the divide between London and the northern cities by connecting them to the rest of the country, providing opportunities, improving quality of life and reducing isolation.
The North-South divide relates to economic and cultural differences between southern and northern England. The differences in crime, unemployment and education highlight the divide, along with the clear lack of government funding and support in the North.
The letter’s author, MP Kevin Hollinrake, said the Northern Powerhouse government scheme’s rail plan is at a “critical stage”.
“The Northern Powerhouse is our ambition to bring together the great cities, towns and rural communities of the North of England and Wales to become a powerhouse for our economy. We will achieve this with modern transport links, a revolutionary new style of governance and increased investment,” the scheme’s website reads.
As of May 2018, the North East of England is seeing one of the highest rates of unemployment, at 4.5 per cent. The region with the lowest level of unemployment is the South West, at 3.2 per cent.
Despite the promises of the Northern Powerhouse, the average government spend per person in the Yorkshire and Humber region was £8,810 in 2017. In London, it was £10,192.
In fact, government investment in the North has fallen by £696 million since 2012, while the South has seen an increase of £7 billion. Where government cuts by the Conservative Party are concerned, the North is arguably getting the raw end of the deal.
Fragments of broken glass litter the East Marsh pavements. Rows of twin-like terraced houses dominate the streets. Some are boarded up; the unsightly result of break-ins or drugs raids.
Sights like these are commonplace in Grimsby, a once-thriving town which housed the biggest fishing port in the world.
This dead-end, ‘forgotten’ town is one of many in the North of England.
Steve Beasant is the Liberal Democrats councillor for the East Marsh.
“The East Marsh has been significantly let down by all governments of every political persuasion. Unlike other parts of the UK, in particular the South, the area’s never been given large amounts to improve its infrastructure or housing stock,” he said.
“It is farcical that within a few miles of this ward, residents are living over eight years longer than the residents of the East Marsh. It is time for major and significant investment within our area. Clearly, the Government are not bothered about our area when they are investing billions into Crossrail and high-speed rail and other ‘vanity projects’ – they are looking after their own.”
A 2017 report revealed that people who live in the North are more likely to die early than those in the South. Statistics showed that people aged between 35 and 44 are almost 50 per cent more likely to die suddenly of unknown causes.
There’s also a significant lack of government funding for Humberside Police, making it difficult for the short-staffed local force to deal with incidents in the area.
There are 310 fewer front line officers and 550 fewer support officers than in 2010.
The Police and Crime Commissioner for Humberside Police, Keith Hunter, said: “The Northern Powerhouse has given people the dream of what could be created in the North. There is obviously a whole lot of potential in the North which isn’t being tapped into.”
“There’s been lots of investment in the South East, but we’re not getting it in the North.”
Earlier this year, the Department for Education released data which revealed that the North East has the most under-performing schools, with 20.9 per cent of secondary schools at an unacceptable standard. The region with the least under-performing schools is London, with just 6.9 per cent.
Just over a third of 18-year-olds living in London have secured a university place compared with less than a quarter (23.7 per cent) in the North East.
Tony Harcup is a senior lecturer at the University of Sheffield who holds strong opinions about the supposed divide in university admissions.
“There is no way that people from deprived areas will have the same opportunities as those with more privileges. That does not mean it is impossible, but it often relies on the influence of a particularly inspirational schoolteacher, supportive family members, or a seriously strong commitment from the student,” he said.
“All universities seem to talk a good game about widening participation but, personally, I have seen little or no evidence of more students from deprived areas of the north turning up in my classes.”
East Marsh United is the perfect example of positive, working-class community spirit in the midst of struggles and hardship.
“If we had a United Kingdom that cared about all of its citizens, then every single place on this island would be cared for and looked after, and that is clearly not the situation at present,” Billy said, sighing.
“Whether its north, south, east or west, every single person on this island needs to be valued.”
It may be ‘grim up North’, but the people certainly aren’t.