North–South divide in England Information

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The three Northern England government regions shown within England, without regional boundaries. Other cultural definitions of the North vary.

In England, the term North–South divide refers to the cultural, economic, and social differences between:

There is also the central region of the Midlands which historically was administered by the Kingdom of Mercia whose borders were defined by the Mersey, the Humber, the Severn and the Thames as shown by its flag, a saltire cross. Counties in the north of the area, such as Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, Rutland, Staffordshire, and Shropshire, are sometimes seen as Northern. [1] A grouping of Central England based on European parliamentary constituency boundaries combined the Midlands and East Anglia until the United Kingdom's departure from the European Union in January 2020.

In political terms, the South, and particularly the South East (outside Greater London) and East Anglia, is largely centre-right, and supportive of the Conservative Party, while the North (particularly the towns and cities) is generally more supportive of the Labour Party.

An article in The Economist (15–21 September 2012) argued that the gap between the North and South in life expectancy, political inclinations and economics trends was growing to the extent that they were almost separate countries. [2]


The North–South divide is not an exact line, but one that can involve many stereotypes, presumptions and other impressions of the surrounding region relative to other regions. The existence of the North–South divide is fiercely contested. Some sources claim that not only does it exist, but that it is expanding. For example, a Cambridge Econometrics report of March 2006 found that economic growth above the UK average was occurring only in the South and South East England, whilst North East England showed the slowest growth. [3] [4] The same data has been interpreted otherwise to indicate only a very small difference. [5] Indeed, results are highly dependent on the categories chosen for evaluation. As a generalisation, the following tend to indicate that there is some sort of north–south divide:

  • Health conditions, which are generally seen as being worse in the north, [6] [7] though spending on health care is higher. [8]
  • House prices, which are higher in the south, particularly the south-east. [9]
  • Average earnings, which are significantly higher in the south and east. [10]
  • Political influence. [11]
  • Public investment in London and the south-east per person in the five years to 2019–20, was 50% more than that in the North. [12]

However, when factors such as the cost of living [13] or urban poverty are included, [14] [15] the divisions are sometimes less clear.

Furthermore, many middle class/ Upper middle class and affluent areas are located near Leeds and Manchester. Yorkshire and Cheshire, geographically part of the North, include prosperous towns and suburbs such as Harrogate, Ilkley and Alwoodley in Yorkshire and Alderley Edge, Wilmslow and Bowdon in Cheshire. On the other hand, geographically southern areas such as the Isle of Thanet in Kent have struggled with the same industrial decline as parts of the north. Cornwall, many London boroughs such as Hackney and Haringey and southern towns like Luton are other anomalies to the north–south divide with poor health and education.

This has led some commentators to suggest that other divisions, such as class [16] or ethnicity might be more important. [17]

The Economist claims that one of the main causes of the divide was the migration of young professionals from the north to work in London, whereas it is much less common for young professionals from the south to move to a northern city. [2]

The IPPR published the "State of the North 2019" report, from IPPR North, which blames regional inequality on power centralisation and the lack of devolution. The report showed that the UK has larger regional divisions than any other country at a comparable level of economic development. [18] [19]

The Northern Independence Party was founded in October 2020, with the intention of fixing the north–south divide by gaining independence for the North of England. [20]

Identities and differences


There is also a perceived cultural divide in England between the north and the south. The It's Grim Up North BBC television series and subsequent book attempted to tease out some of these divisions. [21] While those in the north complained of having fewer cultural opportunities, the book also provided a view of southern life as faceless and bland. [21]

When the commercial broadcaster Granada Television began transmission in 1956, it was primarily based in Manchester. Granada's strapline before both networked and regional programming was originally "From The North, Granada Presents...". A large arrow pointing Upward (North) was part of this caption. Granada Television's 1960s updated arrow (a G with an upwards arrow) was prominent on local idents and production endcaps until Granada's identity was divided between the ITV Granada and Granada Productions (later ITV Studios) brands as part of the creation of ITV plc in 2004.

Counterbalancing the image of the rich South/poor North divide are television programmes like Cold Feet, which feature Yuppie-esque, rich or upper-class Northerners, a deviation from the stereotypical North. Meanwhile, Only Fools and Horses is based around working-class life in Peckham.

Statistics suggest that the consumption of fast-food appears to be higher in the North of England, with the UK's fourteen "fattest cities" to the north or west of the dividing lines detailed above. [22]


In 2013, two articles in The Economist argued that the divide between the left-leaning North and the right-leaning South could not be explained by economic fortunes alone. [23] For example, the affluent suburban constituency of Wirral South was held by Labour, whereas deprived seaside towns in Thanet were represented by the Conservatives. One of the articles compared England's North–South divide to the divide between Northern and Southern Italy. [24] It argued that Italy had a stronger economic divide, whereas England had a stronger divide in voter behaviour. The latter divide has been made starker by the first past the post voting system, which has caused Labour's representation in the South and (until the 2019 general election) the Conservatives' representation in the North to both be far weaker than their actual levels of support.

The journalist Kelvin MacKenzie suggested in 2012 that the South of England needed a political party to campaign for its interests, including "home rule" for the region. [25] City A.M. editor Allister Heath had made a similar suggestion in April 2012, and opined that increased powers for the London region might be obtained when the constitutional status of Scotland is debated. [26]

The north–south divide has also been observed in the Brexit referendum of 2016, with the North leaning Brexit and the South being far more divided. [27] [28] [29]

Language and dialect

Although younger generations may be less likely to use speech that is specific to a particular town, there is still a clear difference between north and south; young Northerners are more resistant to sounding as if they are Southern than sounding as if they are from a different Northern town. [30]

The division is sometimes used for comedy, but has its serious side as well. The London media are sometimes claimed to look down upon those with northern English accents. For example, Ken Livingstone (a Londoner) suggested that the press's unsympathetic treatment of John Prescott was partly because he is one to "speak like ordinary people". [31]

North–south divide between the Provinces of Canterbury and York

Some linguistic research has concluded that many people in the North of England have a dislike of the /ɑː/ vowel in BATH words. AF Gupta wrote, "Many of the northerners were noticeably hostile to /ɡrɑːs/, describing it as 'comical', 'snobbish', 'pompous' or even 'for morons'." [32] On the subject, KM Petyt wrote that several respondents "positively said that they did not prefer the long-vowel form or that they really detested it or even that it was incorrect" [33] Mark Newbrook has assigned this phenomenon the name "conscious rejection", and has cited the BATH vowel as "the main instance of conscious rejection of RP" in his research in the West Wirral. [34]


Within the Church of England, there is the Province of York in the North and the Province of Canterbury in the Midlands and the South. While this has a separation of sorts, it is not a North–South divide, as the Midlands is included. The North was also a stronghold of religious Nonconformism during its industrial heyday.

In the 18th century people in the North were also much more likely than those in the South to remain Catholic. Data from 1715 to 1720 shows that the most Catholic counties were all in the North, and the least Catholic counties were all in the South. With the exception of the southern county of Sussex, which had a higher proportion of Catholics, all intermediate counties were in the Midlands, and, except for Sussex, a line from the River Severn to the Wash marked a divide between more Catholic and less Catholic counties. [35]


Industrial decline is most usually given as an explanation for the north–south divide. [36] During the Industrial Revolution, many northern cities underwent a process of intense industrialisation, as raw materials such as coal and iron ore could be found in these areas. [37] This led to comparatively high wealth; Shaw, Greater Manchester reportedly had the highest concentration of millionaires in the country at the time. [38] It also led to heavy reliance on a few key industries and, as heavy industry began to leave the UK for developing countries under the 'New international division of Labour', [39] these areas declined rapidly. Events like the UK miners' strike (1984–85) polarised public opinion and led to an increase in the divide.

Potential historical reasons for the divide include the influence of Scandinavian rule in the latter centuries of the first millennium CE, with much of the cultural differences of the north–south divide coinciding with the borders of the Danelaw. [40] The Economist proposed in a 2017 article [41] that the origins of the north–south divide could be traced back to the Norman Conquest, and the Harrying of the North in which William the Conqueror laid waste to many towns and estates in the North. This significantly reduced the wealth of the northern half of the country, laying the foundations for centuries of economic disadvantage.

The Midlands

In this image, Northern England is shown as blue, The Midlands as green, and Southern England as yellow.

The North Midlands are sometimes seen as part of the north, with Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, Rutland, Staffordshire, and Shropshire having northern culture and accents. Many Midlands towns and cities appear, at least historically, to have more in common with their northern counterparts than with those in the south.[ citation needed] This is mainly because they have a history of concentrated industrialisation and post-industrial economic depression,[ citation needed] especially in the West Midlands metropolitan county and Stoke-on-Trent (and the Potteries). The film Once Upon a Time in the Midlands (2004), starring Ricky Tomlinson, was made very-much in the character of the straight-talking and dry humoured northern comedies. The non-industrialised service centre and county towns and cities of southern England are perceived to be dominated by London and exist essentially to service the capital.[ citation needed]

However, during the 1930s while the North suffered badly from the Great Depression, [42] the Midlands shared the fortunes of the South as these two areas of the country both prospered, with a booming Midlands motor car industry matching the Southern growth in the manufacture of electrical goods. [43] This not only placed the Midlands socially on the same side as the South during a crucial defining period in Northern working class cultural identity, but also has had still-visible matching effects on the landscape of both Midlands and South, as both experienced a property boom in the middle years of the decade. [42] resulted in the proliferation of the 1930s-style semi-detached houses in Midland areas such as Birmingham's south suburbs to match a similar manifestation in areas of the South such as West London. [42]

As in the North, many Midlands towns and cities have experienced redevelopment, including a second Birmingham Bullring complex which replaced a postwar development, including a branch of the upmarket Selfridges department store, and The Mailbox redevelopment which houses a branch of Harvey Nichols. Solihull metropolitan borough is one of the most affluent in the country. [44]

Closing the gap

Many Northern post-industrial cities and towns are now[ when?] experiencing a renaissance. Examples include Manchester, Kingston upon Hull, [45] Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle upon Tyne, Sheffield and the English Midlands cities of Birmingham, Coventry, Derby and Nottingham.

Manchester, as well as being home to much of ITV's TV output, has also benefited from the decentralisation of many BBC departments that produce TV & radio from London to Salford Quays in Greater Manchester. Manchester has now become the de facto digital hub city outside London for the UK, between 2012 & 2017 private equity investment in Manchester tech companies showed the fastest pace of growth in both volume and deal values in the EU – higher growth than the big hitters like London, Berlin, Paris and Stockholm. [46] By 2018 there were an estimated 82,300 people working in digital in the Manchester city region – the largest cluster outside London & the city's stated ambition is to be recognised as one of Europe's top five digital cities by 2020. This cluster is reflected not only in BBC digital output but also the setup of the non-London UK-base for tech giants like Microsoft, [47] Google & the open secret of around 1000 Amazon employees setting up near Piccadilly. [48] Similarly, the recent[ when?] decision from Channel 4 to open its new Headquarter offices outside of London resulted in bids from various cities across the country, with Leeds prevailing as the destination for the move.

The Bank of England retain their only offices outside London in Leeds, which as well as strong big data & medical software specialisms, also hosts BT and Royal Mail's secondary communication centres for the UK. A strong gaming industry in Leeds has produced global titles such as Grand Theft Auto and L.A. Noire. Typically Southern upmarket department stores and shops have located new stores in the north; these include Harvey Nichols (opening first in Leeds, then Manchester, followed by Birmingham) and Selfridges in the Trafford Centre in 1998, Manchester in 2002 and Birmingham in 2003. Exclusive shopping destinations such as Leeds' Victoria Quarter have led to the city being dubbed 'The Knightsbridge of the North'. [49]

Bradford based supermarket Morrisons, which mainly operated in the North of England acquired 479 stores when it bought Safeway in 2004, the majority of these new supermarkets were in the south of England. [50] Other Northern founded supermarkets such as Asda, Co-op Food and Marks & Spencer are also popular in the south of England.

Writer and DJ Stuart Maconie argues that "there is no south of England... There's a bottom half of England... but there isn't a south in the same way that there's a north". [51] He goes on to state that "there's no conception of the south comparable to the north. Good or bad, 'the north' means something to all English people wherever they hail from... [to southerners] it means desolation, arctic temperatures, mushy peas, a cultural wasteland with limited shopping opportunities and populated by aggressive trolls. To northerners it means home, truth, beauty, valour, romance, warm and characterful people, real beer and decent chip shops. And in this we are undoubtedly biased, of course". This suggests that all people in England have biased views regarding the north–south divide. [52] Maconie says regarding on where the North starts that " Crewe is surely the gateway to the North", suggesting that Crewe is the most southern part of the north of England. [53]

See also


  1. ^ Simpson, Fiona (7 November 2017). "This is where the north of England starts, according to new research". Evening Standard. Retrieved 19 February 2021.
  2. ^ a b "The north of England: the great divide". The Economist. Vol. 404, no. 8802. 15–21 September 2012.
  3. ^ "The North-South Divide Widened in the Last Economic Cycle" (PDF). Cambridge Econometrics. 27 March 2006. Archived from the original (PDF) on 25 July 2006. Retrieved 16 July 2006.
  4. ^ Doran, Tim; Drever, Frances; Whitehead, Margaret (2004). "Is there a north-south divide in social class inequalities in health in Great Britain? Cross sectional study using data from the 2001 census". BMJ. 328 (7447): 1043–1045. doi: 10.1136/bmj.328.7447.1043. PMC  403842. PMID  15117791. Retrieved 16 July 2006.
  5. ^ Bland, J Martin (3 July 2004). "North-south divide in social inequalities in Great Britain". British Medical Journal. Retrieved 16 July 2006.
  6. ^ Carvel, John (11 November 2005). "Wide life expectancy gap between rich and poor". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 16 July 2006.
  7. ^ Meikle, James (6 July 2005). "Cancer atlas reveals north-south divide". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 16 July 2006.
  8. ^ "Public sector finances: views from the inside". June 2010. Archived from the original on 22 June 2011.
  9. ^ "UK House Prices". BBC News. 8 May 2006. Retrieved 16 July 2006.
  10. ^ Carvel, John (10 November 2005). "North-south, east-west wealth divides in survey". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 16 July 2006.
  11. ^ Elliott, Larry (5 July 2004). "The United Kingdom of London". The Guardian. Retrieved 16 July 2006.
  12. ^ Coman, Julian (17 January 2022). "England's north-south divide is deepening, says new report". The Observer.
  13. ^ Wainwright, Martin (8 December 2005). "North just as prosperous as the south, survey finds". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 16 July 2006.
  14. ^ Seager, Ashley (28 October 2005). "London revealed as Britain's worst employment blackspot". The Guardian. Retrieved 16 July 2006.
  15. ^ Asthana, Anushka (27 June 2004). "Rise of the new north has its price". The Observer. London. Retrieved 16 July 2006.
  16. ^ Ahmed, Kamal (10 November 2002). "Britain's class divide starts even before nursery school". The Observer. London. Retrieved 16 July 2006.
  17. ^ "Making a difference: Tackling poverty – a progress report" (PDF). Department for Work and Pensions. March 2006. Archived from the original (PDF) on 25 July 2006. Retrieved 16 July 2006.
  18. ^ Shammas, John (27 November 2019). "Manchester 'has higher mortality rates than parts of Slovakia and Romania'". Manchester Evening News.
  19. ^ Halliday, Josh (27 November 2019). "UK inequality 'among worst of developed countries'". The Guardian.
  20. ^ Moss, Chris (23 November 2021). "Devolution's sunny uplands". Big Issue North. Retrieved 14 February 2022.
  21. ^ a b Holder, Judith (1 September 2005). It's (Not) Grim Up North. London: BBC Books. ISBN  0-563-52281-X.
  22. ^ "Bradford named UK's fattest city". The Guardian. London. 1 February 2006. Retrieved 16 July 2006.
  23. ^ "The politics of North and South". The Economist. 20 April 2013. Retrieved 23 December 2016.
  24. ^ "England's two nations". The Economist. 18 September 2013. Retrieved 23 December 2016.
  25. ^ MacKenzie, Kelvin (2 December 2012). "Kelvin MacKenzie: overtaxed South needs its own party". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 3 December 2012.
  26. ^ Heath, Allister (5 April 2012). "Boris is right to want to transform London into a city-state". City AM. Archived from the original on 3 July 2012. Retrieved 3 December 2012.
  27. ^ Pells, Rachael (1 December 2016). "Brexit vote linked to resentment over north-south education divide, warns Ofsted boss". The Independent.
  28. ^ Cox, Ed (24 June 2016). "Leaving the North behind led to Brexit. Here's what has to happen next". New Statesman.
  29. ^ Davidson, Sarah (13 December 2016). "Brexit vote fallout exposes North-South divide". Construction News.
  30. ^ By 'eck! Bratford-speak is dyin' out Archived 13 March 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  31. ^ White, Michael (30 May 2006). "Prescott's survival hopes recede as MPs speak out". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 20 May 2010.
  32. ^ Baths and Becks, AF Gupta in English Today, page 25, Cambridge University Press, 2005
  33. ^ KM Petyt, Dialect and Accent in Industrial West Yorkshire, page 286, John Benjamins Publishing Company, 1985
  34. ^ West Wirral: norms, self-reports and usage, page 101, Urban Voices, edited by Paul Foulkes & Gerard Docherty, Arnold, London, 1999
  35. ^ Magee, Brian (1938). The English Recusants: A Study of the Post-Reformation Catholic Survival and the Operation of the Recusancy Laws. London: Burns, Oates & Washbourne. OL  14028100M – via Internet Archive.
  36. ^ Lupton, Ruth; Power, Anne (July 2004). "The Growth and Decline of Cities and Regions" (PDF). Retrieved 16 July 2006. {{ cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= ( help)
  37. ^ Population growth in Victorian Manchester: "Work, Health, Housing and Working People in the City of Manchester". Manchester UK. Retrieved 16 July 2006.
  38. ^ "Shaw and Royton area plan" (PDF). Oldham Metropolitan Borough. January 2004. Archived from the original (PDF) on 25 July 2006. Retrieved 16 July 2006.
  39. ^ von Mises, Ludwig (1938). "The Disintegration of the International Division of Labour". Ludwig von Mises Institute. Retrieved 16 July 2006.
  40. ^ "UK's north-south divide dates back to Vikings, says archaeologist", The Guardian, 16 October 2017, retrieved 9 May 2019
  41. ^ "How Norman Rule Reshaped England" (HMTL). The Economist. 24 December 2016. Retrieved 1 September 2017.
  42. ^ a b c What's Left? by Nick Cohen, Harper Perennial 2007, pp220-221
  43. ^ Constantine, Stephen (1983) Social Conditions in Britain 1918–1939 ISBN  0-416-36010-6
  44. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 3 April 2015. Retrieved 14 August 2014.{{ cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title ( link) National Statistics Neighbourhood Profile Summary showing indicators of prosperity
  45. ^ "Welcome to Hull Citybuild". Hull Citybuild. Hull Citybuild. 2007. Archived from the original on 7 June 2007. Retrieved 26 October 2007.
  46. ^ "GMCA Digital Strategy 2018". GMCA. 15 February 2018. Retrieved 27 June 2018.
  47. ^ "Microsoft opens base in the north" (HMTL). Microsoft. 21 September 2017. Retrieved 27 June 2018.
  48. ^ "From Amazon to WPP..." (HMTL). Prolific North. 18 June 2018. Retrieved 27 June 2018.
  49. ^ "City is 'Knightsbridge of North'". BBC News Online. BBC. 24 May 2005. Retrieved 14 October 2008.
  50. ^ "Morrisons seals Safeway takeover". BBC News. 8 March 2004. Retrieved 25 January 2012.
  51. ^ Maconie (2007), p. 1.
  52. ^ Maconie (2007), p. 2.
  53. ^ Maconie (2007), p. 35.


Further reading