PM Rishi Sunak dismisses North South divide fears amid budget criticism

Rushi Sunak has claimed that inequality in the UK is ‘declining’ despite a report highlighting the continued North South divide.

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPRR) North report into regional inequality in the UK has found that northerners are likely to experience shorter, poorer, and less healthy lives until at least 2080 unless there are drastic changes to levelling up funding.

Graham Stringer the MP for Blackley and Broughton in Greater Manchester raised the concerns from the report during Prime Minister’s Questions and that the government’s levelling up agenda “has failed”.

The MP claimed that wealth inequalities between the North and South East of England will increase to “nearly a quarter of a million pound per head by the end of this decade”.

In response Sunak said: “On the contrary, inequality in our country has actually declined under this Conservative government.

“It’s actually the North that has received some of the highest amounts of per capita levelling up funding of any region in the country.”

This claim is true with the North generally receiving more “levelling up funding” on a per capita basis than the South East but less overall.

However, the Prime Minster’s claims about reducing inequality are not supported by organisations such as the Centre for Social Justice which find a country “deeply divided”.

Another report from EY this week claimed that London and the South East will outpace the growth of the rest of the UK.

Policies in today’s budget have been criticised for furthering the gap between regions. Measures such as national insurance cuts and the freeze on fuel duty typically disproportionately benefit people with higher incomes.

New Economics Foundation (NEF) analysis calculates that the 2p cut to national insurance is likely to increase household income in the North West by between £700 and £800 compared to over £1000 in London and the South East.

IPPR North director Zoe Billingham fears that this budget is the government’s admission that it has given up on levelling up the North.

She said: “Headline cuts to national insurance benefit mainly people in the South East of England and are set against a backdrop of deep public concern about the state of public services. The country is crying out for public investment.”

This is a view unlikely to be changed by the government allocating £242million of funding to “levelling up” Canary Wharf.

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities has announced measures to “supercharge” the North of England’s growth. But this has been met with skepticism after it was reported this week that less than 20% of announced town regeneration projects in England have been completed to date.

The Prime Minister’s response to the concerns raised by the various reports is unlikely to reassure northerners who fear the region is at risk of being further left behind.

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