North–South divide in the United Kingdom

In Great Britain, the term North–South divide refers to the economic and cultural differences between Southern England and the rest of Great Britain (Northern England, The Midlands, Wales and Scotland). The divide cuts through the English Midlands. Sometimes, the term is widened to include the whole United Kingdom, with Northern Ireland included as part of "the North".

In political terms, the South, and particularly South East England (outside inner London) and East of England, is largely centre-right, and supportive of the Conservative Party, while the Greater North (particularly the towns and cities) was, until the 2019 general election, generally more supportive of the Labour Party. The Scottish National Party have been the most supported in Scotland since the 2007 Scottish Parliament election, while support for the Liberal Democrats, and many of the smaller parties, is generally more equally spread out. There is some criticism of this analysis in the West Country which, until the 2015 general election, had consistently provided a solid base for the Liberal Democrats, and also in places (particularly parts of Bristol, Devon, and Cornwall) which suffer from many of the same economic problems as the North.


The North-South divide is not an exact line, but one that can involve many stereotypes, presumptions and other impressions of the surrounding region relative to other regions.

The existence of the North-South divide is fiercely contested. Some sources claim it exists but also that it is even expanding. For example, a report in 2001 found that North East England, North West England and Scotland had poorer health levels than South.[1]

The same data have been interpreted otherwise to indicate only a very small difference.[2]

Indeed, results are highly dependent on the categories chosen for evaluation. As a generalisation, the following tend to indicate that there is some sort of north-south divide:

  • Health conditions, which are generally seen as being worse in the north,[3][4] though spending on health care is higher[5]
  • House prices, which are higher in the south, particularly the South-East.[6]
  • Earnings, which are higher in the south and east.[7]
  • Government spending per person on drivers of growth such as transport, infrastructure and R&D, which is far higher in the South-East.[8][9]
  • Political influence.[10]
  • Devolution of powers to local government. London has a directly elected mayor with control over public transport whilst most Northern cities do not have mayors and have transport policies decided by the UK government.

However, many middle-class and affluent areas are located near most major cities north of the divide, and conversely there are pockets of large deprivation in the south. A 2004 report into wealth by Barclays Bank also highlighted the anomaly that the wealthiest parliamentary constituency outside London was actually Sheffield Hallam.[11] A 2012 survey by Halifax stated that whilst nine of the top ten most expensive places to live in Britain were in the south of England, Edinburgh was ninth on the list, ahead of Salisbury.[12]

This has led some commentators to suggest that other divisions, such as class[13] or ethnicity might be more important.[14]

There is also controversy as to what constitutes the South given that it extends much farther longitudinally than the North of the country; some commentators have placed the West Country (in this case, Bristol,[15] Somerset, Devon and Cornwall) into a region of its own because the poverty in some of these areas is often as widespread as it is in the North, and political support is also focused on the usually widespread Liberal Democrats, until the 2015 general election when the Conservatives took virtually all the seats west of Bristol.


The North has been generally perceived as being supportive of Labour as well as in Scotland the SNP and the South being generally supportive of the Conservatives. During the 1980s, Labour councils in the North were often openly dismissive of any orders from the Thatcher government. Examples include Liverpool under the Militant tendency and Sheffield under David Blunkett. Furthermore, after the 2010 General election, the Conservatives held only one seat in Scotland and none in the major cities of Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Hull and Sheffield, all of which were dominated by Labour. The Conservatives hold two seats in Leeds. It can also be noted that major city councils in southern England tend to swing politically between Labour and Conservative control, despite being located in a wider region dominated singularly by the Conservatives. Examples of this include the cities of Southampton and Plymouth.

See also


  1. Doran, Tim; Drever, Frances; Whitehead, Margaret (1 May 2004). "Is there a north-south divide in social class inequalities in health in Great Britain? Cross sectional study using data from the 2001 census". Retrieved 16 July 2006. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  2. Bland, J Martin (3 July 2004). "North-south divide in social inequalities in Great Britain". British Medical Journal. Retrieved 16 July 2006.
  3. Carvel, John (11 November 2005). "Wide life expectancy gap between rich and poor". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 16 July 2006.
  4. Meikle, James (6 July 2005). "Cancer atlas reveals north-south divide". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 16 July 2006.
  5. "Public sector finances: views from the inside". Archived from the original on 22 June 2011.
  6. "UK House Prices". BBC News. 8 May 2006. Retrieved 16 July 2006.
  7. Carvel, John (10 November 2005). "North-south, east-west wealth divides in survey". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 16 July 2006.
  8. "Transport spend per head is £2,700 for London but £5 per head in North East". IPPR North. 19 December 2011.
  9. "Northern prosperity is national prosperity: A strategy for revitalising the UK economy". IPPR North, NEFC. 29 November 2012.
  10. Elliott, Larry (5 July 2004). "The United Kingdom of London". The Guardian. Retrieved 16 July 2006.
  11. "Wealth hotspots 'outside London'". BBC News. 7 July 2004.
  12. "The 10 most expensive and least expensive cities in Britain". Daily Telegraph. 14 October 2012. Retrieved 8 December 2016.
  13. Ahmed, Kamal (10 November 2002). "Britain's class divide starts even before nursery school". The Observer. London. Retrieved 16 July 2006.
  14. "Making a difference: Tackling poverty – a progress report" (PDF). Department for Work and Pensions. March 2006. Archived from the original (PDF) on 25 July 2006. Retrieved 16 July 2006.
  15. Clark, Dave (15 July 2011). "Mr". Retrieved 15 July 2011.