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‘Poor Brits live years shorter than rich ones’

AFP

‘Leveling up’, the equalization of the enormous disparities in wealth between poor and rich regions in Britain, had been put on the back burner by the departed Liz Truss. The new Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has embraced this motto and the approach is high on his list of priorities.

With a multi-billion dollar injection, the regions where things are not going well should be given a boost. And that is necessary, say experts. Take, for example, the life expectancy of the different groups. Men living in Britain’s wealthiest regions live on average about six years longer than men in the poorest regions.

“That gap is about as big, if not slightly larger, than that between the wealthiest English regions and parts of North Africa,” Philip McCann, a professor of productivity at the University of Manchester, told IPS. news hour.

He sees that there is a gap. The poor northern regions have felt ignored for decades by the predominantly prosperous south and capital London.

And that gap is not so easy to close, says Bart van Ark, he is the director of the Institute of productivity at the University of Manchester. “Certainly in the last fifteen years, too little has been invested in these regions,” he says.

We live in two different countries.

Market vendor in Northern England

If he wants to tackle this problem, Sunak will have to let go of his idea about the free market, Van Ark is convinced: “The idea that if you stimulate the strong side of the economy, that the rest will also benefit, that shows not to work for these regions.”

For example, more public money still goes to wealthy London than to the underprivileged regions. The difference in budget for, for example, public transport is large. In London, that amount per inhabitant is almost three times higher than in a city like York.

Sunak, the richest British Prime Minister to ever reign, wants to present himself as Prime Minister of all Britons. But there are doubts about his sincerity. In Sunak’s first debate, opposition leader Keir Starmer reproached him for saying during a secretly recorded conversation this summer that he is diverting money from poor regions to more affluent areas.

“He acts like he’s on the side of the working people. But in private he says something completely different,” Starmer added.

‘No eye for us’

The British in the north of the country are also critical. In his ‘own region’ the problems are immense. “The Conservatives don’t care about us at all,” says a volunteer at a soup kitchen in Northallerton, Yorkshire, where food is being given away.

The place is about an hour’s drive from Sunak’s country house. At the kitchen they see whole families coming to get meals. Preferably already prepared, because energy to heat it up is expensive.

The man who has to reduce this distance is called Michael Gove. He was already ‘levelling minister’ under Boris Johnson, disappeared from the scene when Truss came, but now returns. It is his task to bring this difficult task to a successful conclusion in times of budget cuts.

A fishmonger at the market in Wakefield, where they see prices rising by the week, takes a gloomy view. He says there are “two different countries”. The north and the south. “In the 60s and 70s we were important here with the factories, but now it’s all about the money in London.”

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