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Last modified: 07 April 2016

Are inequality and London the reason the UK has the poorest regions in Northern Europe?

A response to this blog post, also left as a comment on that site.

I too retweeted the map. Having read this piece after a break I am further convinced that it was right to do so. I think you have missed they key point being made by many retweeters and I hope that you will reconsider your view in that light.

 

The issues you take with the map seem confined mostly to the text in the bottom right corner. You raise reasonable issues, but they are of almost no importance.

Is London the richest region in Europe, or is it just the fifth richest? That doesn’t change the map, it’s just a small detail.

Is PPS based on a single national purchasing power a perfect way to measure wealth in regions of unequal countries? Not really, but the only reason it is a poor measure in the UK is because the nation is so unequal. Either way we have proved, and you do not dispute, the UK’s high regional inequality.

The map should force the reader to ask how the poorest regions of the UK became, and remain, the poorest in Northern Europe – despite existing in similar geographies as their varied continental equivalents. There are plenty of regions that act as controls for the historic underinvestment and industrial decline of the UK’s regions but we see that France’s North-East, Germany’s East, and Sweden’s South have outperformed the UK. Why?

Let me borrow your analogy of a class of Year 1s.

We’ll travel back to post-war Europe and take two identical classes of ten happy, hopeful, but slightly malnourished year 1s. We’ll call one class Northern Europe and one the UK. To the Northern European class, we’ll give each child a carton of milk every morning. To the UK class, we’ll give the prefect called London ten cartons of milk and let him distribute it.

The map is showing the result a few years later of that experiment.

In one room sits a podgy London with milk dribbling down his cheek and a cohort of slightly malnourished classmates. In the other room a more equal and overall more healthy cohort of Europeans – none having quite reached London’s weight, but most quite close – play nicely.

 

The analogy is stretched, but it shows how inequality, the underperformance of the UK as a whole, and the leading wealth of London are just different symptoms of the same underlying, historic, and sustained bias.