The Covid-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the North-South divide

By Ellie Tomlin

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of InQuire Media

Image courtesy of Markus Spiske

It wasn’t until I moved to Kent in 2017 that I realised the true extent of the north-south divide. Yes, the food can be different; yes, the weather is (somewhat) better down south and yes, the South has better transport systems. Yet the true extent of the divide has never felt deeper than today.

Covid-19 will continue to destroy local businesses, career plans and educations of generations. But for us northerners, the effects have been somewhat magnified. Since July, my hometown Darwen has been in lockdown, with a ban on household mixing. This was then extended to Pendle and Greater Manchester. This localised lockdown was announced on the national news on 29th July, the day before Eid, which affected many people in my community. Food had already been cooked and families were gathering.

Fast-forwarding to mid-October, following strict restrictions in Bolton, the government introduced a three-tier system. Liverpool was placed straight into Tier 3, with Lancashire following shortly behind. Greater Manchester took some fighting, thanks to Mayor Andy Burnham who tirelessly advocated for Greater Manchester’s businesses and community. For those criticising Burnham, it’s important to highlight that he wasn’t stopping restrictions from happening – he knew they were necessary – but was rather demanding the government put more financial support in place. Many of the community were already unemployed, relying on foodbanks and had seen their lives turned upside down. But, alas the £5-million extra funding request was refused and Greater Manchester was forced into Tier 3 without sufficient financial support.

From 31 October infection rates were rising in London, Essex and surrounding areas. Did the government put them into Tier 3? No, instead they declared a national lockdown and told us all to ‘stick together’. Calculating the financial impact of this lockdown, Rishi Sunak extended the furlough scheme until March 2021. This begs the question: if the furlough scheme can be extended once London is affected, why wasn’t Greater Manchester granted the extra financial support when Andy Burnham requested it? It is only when problems affect London that the Tories act.

The massive impact Covid-19 has had on the education of many young people is further evidence of a north-south divide. If we cast our minds back to August and the failed exam algorithms, we’ll realise such measures disproportionally attacked students from disadvantaged backgrounds or poorer areas and the North, in general, is home to many such areas. A nightmare for school leadership this term has been to deal with coronavirus cases and the isolation of many pupils and staff. In mid-October, it was reported in the House of Commons that 17 out of the 23 local authorities, where secondary school attendance had been below 80 per cent, were in the North. According to TES, by the end of October ‘Secondary schools in the North West and Yorkshire and the Humber had the joint lowest attendance rate at 81 per cent, followed by the North East at 83 per cent.

By contrast, secondary schools in the South West had the highest rates of attendance, with 90 per cent of pupils in school, while the South East and the East of England had 89 per cent attendance’. It must be obvious therefore that, should the government proceed with exams this summer, pupils in the North have missed more schooling than others and are therefore at significant risk of falling behind. Will this massive gap in attendance rates be considered when creating exam papers or analysing results? Or will 2021 be a repeat of the unfair exam fiasco we saw in 2020?

Considering the north-south divide during this Covid era, I’ve never felt such anger as on 9 November, the day when my own MP (Tory- who’d have guessed?) declared that the culture up north is ‘football teams’ while declaring the south to be the heart of opera, ballet and theatre. In response to this insult, nobody put it better than the Northern Ballet company, based in Leeds, who tweeted “We are disappointed that an MP and former government minister continues to perpetuate tropes that culture in the north is of less value than that in London,” and went on to say that “In the same way that sporting clubs are of great importance to many people throughout the country, including in the south, culture is equally important to a huge percentage of people in the north.”

So while I know the north-south divide is often just the subject of light-hearted banter between friends, it’s important to remember that the Tory government are singlehandedly and persistently devaluing the north, by negating our voices and denying vital help. We can’t continue to turn a blind eye to those struggling and suffering simply because they are situated north of the Watford Gap. Fellow Northerners, we must not let ourselves forget which party mistreated you next time you put pen to ballot paper.

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First published in 1965, InQuire is the University of Kent student newspaper.

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