North set for over a half century of sicker, shorter healthy lives, without a step change in levelling up.

by | Mar 1, 2024

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It will be 2080 before the gap in healthy life expectancy is closed between the North and South East. 

IPPR North’s annual State of the North report urges a range of policies for the next Parliament to close regional gaps

New research by IPPR North reveals that the gap in Healthy Life Expectancy between the North and South East England won’t close until 2080 on current trends. 

 
 

The annual State of the North report calls for across-the-board action to address inequalities in health, wealth, power, and opportunity. 

The gap in healthy life expectancy between the North and England overall will not close until 2056/57 while the gap between the North and the South East is set to endure until 2079/80. The gap between the North and London is on course to keep growing on current trends. 

The research also reveals that regional wealth inequality will continue to grow. It calls for a reform of capital gains tax to fund investment in the regions, as well as action to stave off political cynicism, investment to halt the collapse of local authority finances and renewed urgency in the creation of good jobs as part of a renewed regional agenda. 

 
 

The report finds that: 

  • The northern electorate has become increasingly marginal meaning it will likely tip the scales in the general elections expected later this year. 
  • Wealth inequality is on course to grow, with a gap reaching £228,800 per head between the South East and the North by the end of the decade, on current trends. 
  • Local government spending cuts have undermined devolution and harmed outcomes, with up to £2,000 of spending power per person removed from local control across all tiers of local government by Westminster to date. 
  • By 2030 London’s employment rate will be 66 per cent, while the North East’s will barely reach 56 per cent, on present trends, symbolising an entrenched ‘opportunity gap’ between North and South. 

Report author and IPPR North research fellow, Marcus Johns, said:  

“No one should be condemned to live a shorter, sicker, less fulfilling, or poorer life simply because of where they were born. Yet, that is what our regional inequalities offer today as gaps in healthy life expectancy and wealth endure over the generations, demanding urgent action if we are to change course.” 

 
 

“It’s hard to avoid the conclusion we are headed in the wrong direction on inequality in health, wealth, power, and opportunity while local government finances languish in chaos.” 

“This is a crucial year for elections, locally and nationally, and Westminster cannot afford to ignore the state of the North. We know there are ready-to-go policies that will help arrest and reverse these problems and grasping them could make this year the year that kickstarts a decade of regional renewal.” 

The State of the North report sets out several policies politicians should consider putting regions back on the right track, including to: 

Restore voters’ trust 

  • Ensure place is considered in all matters of national policy  
  • Make the empowerment of local government irreversible, guaranteeing fair and sustainable local funding and continued broader, deeper devolution of powers. 

Rebalance wealth 

  • Fund regional investment to German-style levels by investing £7.6 billion a year over 15 years across England’s regions. 
  • Fund this by raising up to £13 billion a year with a targeted wealth tax reform that taxes income from wealth the same as income from work, effectively redistributing from the wealthiest, predominantly in the South to the North. 

Fund local government fairly 

  • Invest £4 billion of stabilisation funding into local authorities to bridge gaps created by central government cuts. 
  • Reform local government finance fairly, according to needs and in a way that allows councils to plan over a longer term. 

Create good jobs and opportunity 

  • Create opportunity across England with a long-term, place-informed green industrial strategy 

Fix the scandal of the north’s flatlining healthy life expectancy 

  • Implement the IPPR Health and Prosperity Commission’s Health and Prosperity Improvement Zones (HAPI Zones) with focussed interventions in communities with the lowest healthy life expectancy. 
  • Fund HAPI zones with a £3 billion Health Creation Fund allocated on a needs basis, funded by national and local levies on health-harming industries 

In an election year Westminster cannot afford to ignore the North 

IPPR North Director, Zoë Billingham, said: “It’s electoral crunch time and politicians cannot afford to ignore the increasingly marginal yet critical northern voters as they go to the polls twice in the next 12 months.” 

“Without determined and renewed action in the next parliament lives across the country will continue to be lived very differently and unfairly with gaping divides in wealth and jobs only getting worse between the North and the rest of the country and differences in healthy life expectancy enduring for far too long”. 

“Action is also sorely needed to correct course on local government finance. If we continue with the status quo communities will continue to feel the impact of retreating public services as well as undermining the very aims of devolution.  

“From targeted wealth tax reforms to health improvement zones, this report sets out a package of measures the government, or the next government, needs to take to truly rebalance England.” 

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