UK: The poor are getting poorer

One fourth of the British households are poor and the north-south divide is getting wider, claim British researchers.

People living in the south of the UK are likely to be better educated and earn more money than their northern counterparts, a Sheffield University study suggests.

Southerners will also have more doctors and dentists to treat them - but are less likely to be ill.

The researchers used census data from 1991 and 2001 to compile an atlas of 500 maps tracking population trends.

Combining this data with surveys designed to measure poverty, they found that overall more households in the UK were poorer (up from 21% to 24%).

The poverty measure used is the Breadline Britain measure. This defines a household as poor if the majority of people in Britain, at the time of calculation, would think that household to be poor. This means that as overall living standards rise, poverty can also rise if society becomes more unequal.

Skilled trade workers, based almost exclusively in the North, suffered the biggest decline of any sector over the same period - with a 500,000 drop in the workforce.

Co-author of the report, Professor Daniel Dorling, concluded that the country was being "split in half".

He said: "To the south is the metropolis of Greater London, to the north and west is the 'archipelago of the provinces' - city islands that appear to be slowly sinking demographically, socially and economically.

Yvette Cooper, minister for regeneration and social exclusion, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "The divide used to be characterised by high unemployment rates and by economic decline in a lot of the northern regions.

"That's changed and it's changed already because we're seeing now economic growth taking place in every region.

"You're also seeing unemployment falling faster in the most deprived districts than in the national average, so we are seeing improvements taking place.

But Professor Dorling, speaking on the same programme, said there was no indication the pattern was changing.

He said: "It's a long and slow and steady trend and has many reasons behind it. The population of Britain has been moving southwards for over 100 years.

"There's only been a few years in the last century when on average the population hasn't moved southwards.

"So we should expect this divide to widen over the next 10 or 20 years, unless something dramatic was to happen."

There were pockets of affluence in the North, such as parts of Leeds and Manchester, which "governed" those regions, he said.

London has large chunks of poverty, including the UK's poorest boroughs - Hackney and Tower Hamlets, which have become almost 10% poorer since 1991.

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