Covid-19: The North-South Divide – Labour Article


Covid-19: The North-South Divide – Labour Article

Once the cultural and manufacturing hub of England, the North now experiences the highest R rates (highest rate of infections per 100,000 people) for Covid-19, lower life expectancy and a lack of funding from the government. Years of economic discrimination have dramatically come to bare.

The disparity between Northern R rates and that of the South is a scary reality. What is even scarier, however, is that it was completely predictable and easily preventable.

For context, the difference is so vast that whilst Greater Manchester, Leicester, Burnley and Preston have all been plunged into lockdown, not one southern town or borough has seen local lockdown measures. These measures are vital for stopping the spread of Covid-19, but what is the reason for the crisis in the North?

No, it’s not ethnic minority communities. The political right has espoused some absolutely atrocious comments recently. Such as that of Conservative MP Craig Whittaker who attempted to exclusively blame Muslims for the rising R rates. The country is tackling a pandemic yet this Tory MP still decided it was an apt time to spread Islamophobia. Ignoring that nonsense, the answer is actually very simple.

The percentage of the labour market employed in blue-collar jobs in the North is far higher than in the South. Dr Simon Clarke of Reading University suggested that due to the deprived communities and lower costs in the North, companies exploit the area for factories and warehouses.

The close-quarters nature of these workplaces has already resulted in outbreaks in parts of West Yorkshire. Whereas, the South benefits from a higher percentage of white-collar jobs meaning more people can work from home. This thereby allows people to avoid contact with others and reduce the spread Covid-19. 

What I have identified is a reality that cannot be changed overnight. But it is of vital importance we understand why the North is suffering in this way. Project ‘Northern Powerhouse’ was a flagship policy in the Cameron era. The aim was to establish a modern northern economy with the newly created mayors holding jurisdiction alongside the councils over key decisions.

A report by the think tank Centre for Cities found that despite the promises, little had changed. Under austerity Northern cities saw their council budgets fall by twice as much as those in the south (excluding London). That fact makes me very angry. Broken promises mean that after 2023 when the ‘Transforming Cities Fund’ is voided, the Northern Powerhouse project will be put on the backburner. 

The conditions for success are simply lacking. 15 years ago London housed the majority of the UK’s worst-ranked schools; now it is the Northern communities that bear this yoke with little sign of respite. To compound this desperate situation, more than 800,000 are living in poverty.  These figures are from the pre-Covid data, imagine how much worse the reality is now. Stopping the funding of the North is a seriously flawed and heartless decision by the government.

The Covid-19 crisis in the North was easily preventable. Forcing people back to work on construction sites and in warehouses was a grave error by the government that disproportionately affected the working class.

Furlough has been an impressive scheme. However, ending it in October will bring many communities to the brink. The Cummings fiasco that led to a steep decline in trust in government was also a direct contributor to non-compliance with lockdown regulations.

Most importantly, real investment into the Northern economy (as was promised) in years gone by would have increased the percentage of white-collar workers which would have protected entire communities from the rapid spread of Covid-19. A whole host of missed opportunities where the government should have taken action has left the North in a relatively bleak situation. 

The real danger, in the words of Labour MP for Sheffield Dan Jarvis, is that the government fails to see the North as “an asset, not a liability.”

Written by Guest Labour Writer, Henry Mckeever

Point of Information

We need to stop neglecting the North – A Liberal Response

I totally agree with Henry. The government is single-handedly responsible for the coronavirus crisis in the North. Their lack of productive investment has left communities vulnerable to the disease’s rapid spread as northern labour markets continue to be dominated by blue-collar jobs.

On top of this, overcrowded housing, poorly funded care homes, and under-developed infrastructure all mean the North is now experiencing the highest R rates in the UK. 

As Henry points out, there have been many missed opportunities where the government should have taken action. So, I thought I would add what I think the government needs to do to redeem itself. 

In the short-term, the government needs to move away from its one-size-fits-all approach to withdrawing the furlough scheme. New research warns that simply withdrawing the furlough scheme with nothing in its place will cause unemployment at levels “not seen since the Great Depression”. And, this unemployment will be concentrated in blue-collar jobs.

A one-size-fits-all approach will hit the northern communities harder, deepening and entrenching regional inequality. The government needs to see these communities through the crisis by targeting support, not pull the life raft away while the storm is still raging on. 

In the long-term, the government needs to do two things. 

One: more devolution. Over-centralisation is the root cause of this issue. Too much power is hoarded in Westminster, and this holds back the North. The Government must prioritise devolution and move on from a narrative of helping the North to one that truly empowers the region. Through this, it can then take control of its own future. 

Two: redirect public spending to infrastructure, research & development, and education. Infrastructure investment will improve connectivity, increasing the opportunities to live and work in the North. Investing in research & development industries will help the North address its ongoing issue with ‘brain drain’, which sees highly qualified young people leaving the region to take up jobs elsewhere. Finally, government spending on improving education and skills will increase labour productivity and enable higher long-term economic growth. 

The North can no longer be viewed as a liability. It’s an asset that we cannot neglect. 

Written by Guest Liberal Writer, Libby Gilbert

A glaring investment opportunity – A Conservative Response

I agree with the vast majority that has been said, but first a couple of clarifications. 

First, the R rate. Henry said above that the North is experiencing the highest R rate. A bizarre statement, given that it is false: the highest (median) R rate at present (6 August 2020 are the latest figures), according to the University of Cambridge, has the South West as having the highest regional rate.

Next, the strange claim that “the government is single-handedly responsible for the coronavirus crisis in the North” from Libby. The coronavirus crisis in the North is down to cumulative historical issues, yet this government is just eight months old.

All that said, I wholeheartedly agree that there is a big divide between North and South, and that this divide is a problem. I won’t re-articulate the issues, the above article and response has done that for me.

In terms of solutions, I think Libby hit the nail on the head: devolution and funding. In that order.

There is no point channelling money into anything if there is no direction. Furthermore, it would be a mistake to view our progression as a country solely through the prism of London. Any investor will tell you that under-developed areas yield far larger returns than their developed counterparts.

With the inclusion of Northern infrastructural projects in the 2019 Tory manifesto, perhaps – after he has weathered the considerable storm that is Covid-19 – Johnson will not be “all talk”, and will move to redress the growing schism within our country.

Written by Senior Conservative Writer, Alexander Dennis

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Henry Mckeever
Senior Labour writer | Website

I am entering the third year of a BA in History and Ancient History at the University of Exeter.  I have a fascination with the past otherwise and you would hope so, otherwise I may have chosen the wrong degree. But, writing for POI gives me the opportunity to talk politics which is something I simply can’t avoid.

Alexander Dennis
Political writer | Website

Hello, I’m Alexander Dennis, and I am going into my third undergraduate year at the University of Exeter. I study Politics & International Relations, with a possible year abroad hanging in the balance. My particular interest in politics really started in early 2016: yes, it was ‘Brexit’. I was at once intrigued, and confused, by something so critical. From that baptism, I have become somewhat addicted to political discussion, intrigued by issues ranging from drugs policy to taxation. So I followed my nose: I applied for a degree in the subject.

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