Professor Dominic Harrison said levelling up the North of England is going to be like reuniting Germany, meaning it will take time and money. The UK’s levelling up fund is a measly £4.8bn in total
Bridging the gulf between North and South is like reunifying Germany after the end of the Cold War, says Prof Dominic Harrison, Director of Public Health and Wellbeing at Blackburn with Darwen council.
He argues that truly levelling up in Britain would require a Herculean effort on the scale of that launched 30 years ago to bring together poorer Communist East and richer capitalist West Germany to create today’s European powerhouse.
He says: “That took them many years and West Germany had to invest loads in East Germany and now by miles and miles they are Europe’s bankers.
“Levelling up the North, because of the differences we’ve got, is going to be like reuniting Germany.”
Germany spent the equivalent of £71billion a year between 1990 and 2014 on reunification. The UK’s levelling up fund is a measly £4.8bn in total, according to the Centre for Cities think-tank.
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Prof Harrison calls for a 25-year plan backed by serious money and genuine devolution for the North.
In his Lancashire patch, life expectancy for men is 76.3, three years less than England’s 79.3 average, while for women it is 80.3 instead of 83.1. Prof Harrison says: “We are 20 years behind the average England life expectancy in Blackburn with Darwen.
“One narrative is levelling up. The other narrative is left behind.”
He blames deep-seated inequalities, such as a pay gap of £4 an hour between North and South, combining to make life tougher, with economic hardships ruining health.
Levelling up is supposed to be the big idea of Boris Johnson’s government.
When he was elected in 2019 he pledged to spread opportunity to every corner of the UK.
But two years later we are still waiting for the Prime Minister to deliver on his promises.
A White Paper setting out the Government’s plan was supposed to have been published this month but has now been shelved until the new year.
Many are starting to question whether Mr Johnson is genuinely committed to spreading wealth and opportunity or if levelling up is just an empty slogan.
That is why the Mirror is today launching Levelling Up Watch.
We intend to hold the Government to account over its plans to improve schools, communities, education and transport.
We also want to see any additional money distributed fairly and not just to seats the Tories need to retain to stay in power.
What is clear is tinkering with the structure of local government and sprinkling money on piecemeal transport schemes will not be enough.
The regional inequality in Britain is not only deep and engrained, it has become starker since the Conservatives came to power in 2010.
During that period more than 1,000 Sure Start Centres have closed, local councils have seen their funding cut by more than 25% and the budgets for public health and education have been badly squeezed.
The National Audit Office found that since 2017, funding in the most deprived fifth of schools fell in real terms by 1.2%, while funding in the fifth least deprived schools rose by 2.9%.
The additional money announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak in his Budget will only return per pupil funding to 2010 levels.
People in poorer areas are likely to have worse health and shorter life expectancy but the budget for Public Health England in 2021-22 is 24% – £1billion – lower in real terms than in 2015-16.
Nor can it be right that 2019-20 transport spending was £882 per capita in London, compared to £315 in the North East and £309 in Yorkshire and Humber.
We have heard plenty of words from Mr Johnson about his ambitions to level up but the time for rhetoric is over. We need to see some action.
He says: “What companies pay you, how well you’ve been educated, what your transport links are – if you go through those drivers of inequality, if you live in the North you are less invested in than in the South.
“We need to reinvest in a whole range of different things.
“Inequality isn’t a single disease. It’s more like a syndrome and it requires a redistribution of the country’s resources.”
He appeals for investment in people, not just infrastructure.
He says: “It needs to be more sophisticated. We need to regenerate and level up people.”
Create fairer society to close health gap
By Sir Michael Marmot, Director of University College London Institute of Health Equity
It has not been good for your health to live in the North West, North East, or other deprived parts of England.
The conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age are the key determinants of health.
If social conditions are poorer, health will be poorer.
Until 2010, life expectancy was increasing by about one year every four years but since then, life expectancy in the most deprived 10% of areas has declined.
Austerity, regressive cuts in local government and rises in child poverty have all contributed and the pandemic has made health inequalities worse. Covid-19 mortality was 25% higher in the North West than the English average. We urge the government to act on our Build Back Fairer reports.
Give every person the best start in life – education, good employment and working conditions.
Make sure people have enough money to lead a healthy life, and offer them healthy choices of diet, exercise and other behaviours.
Building back fairer will take money, investing in the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age.
It is a matter of social justice. The result will be a fairer distribution of health and dignified lives.