'Wellbeing' figures highlight north-south divide

UK, London, Woman running in front of Westminster skyline

London offers the best education and income while Northern Ireland is best for air quality, according to a new index from the the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Meanwhile, the north-east comes bottom for jobs, household disposable income and broadband access, while the north-west is worst for air quality and northern Ireland has the lowest workforce education levels.

%VIRTUAL-SkimlinksPromo%"Where people live has a huge effect on their quality of life," says Rolf Alter, OECD public governance and territorial development director. "By zooming in like this, we can really see the big differences that exist between regions and work out what local and state governments must do to reduce them."

The OECD's new interactive tool allows users to compare income, jobs, health, access to services, environment, education, safety and civic engagement across 362 regions worldwide.

"So you can discover, for instance, that northeast England and Utah have a similar wellbeing level, or that life in Nunavut in Canada is similar to that in Chihuahua, Mexico, at least from a wellbeing standpoint," says the OECD's Sue Kendall.

In the UK, the figures show a stark north-south divide. Scotland has the poorest health, with the shortest life expectancy - more than three years less than in south-east England. The south east has the lowest murder rates (although London has the highest), and is best for jobs and health.

The figures are more than just a way to settle arguments, with Kendall pointing out that more than 50 percent of economic growth and job creation in the OECD area occurs in the 275 metropolitan regions.

"But now in almost half (45 percent) of these metropolitan areas unemployment is higher than for the national economy," she says.

"Once you know that a disproportionately high share of national unemployment is concentrated in a limited number of regions, and which ones they are, you can start to look at regional policies that can help."

Last week, chancellor George Osborne promised to create a 'Northern powerhouse', in part through the creation of a new high-speed rail link between Manchester and Liverpool.

He denied claims that the north-south divide was widening. "Which part of England has the fastest-growing economic activity right now? The North-East," he said. "Where are people joining the labour market at the fastest rate? The North-West and North-East."

However, recent figures from the Office for National Statistics show that the three lead regions of southern Britain generated just over a million new employee jobs, while the three regions of Northern England produced just 6,000.

"Firstly, government efforts to rebalance the economy away from an excessive dependence on London and the South East have not as yet proved very successful, at least when measured by overall job generation," says Ian Brinkley of the Work Foundation.

"Secondly, there is clearly a lot of unused capacity in the less successful regions, so a more balanced regional recovery would help reduce policy maker's fears over the sustainability of the national recovery."
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