The great North-South divide is anything but great
It is being widely reported we are coming out of the recession and the housing market is recovering. It is very good news if you happen to live in the south east of England. It is also being reported the number of people using foodbanks has increased from 20,000 in 2012 to 350,000 in 2013, which is horrifying. We are being made aware of a large increase in shoplifting, but the reason is now different. It has historically been a crime which was committed to generate income for the criminal. We are now informed the reason is to obtain food. The shoplifters are too ashamed to visit a foodbank and must therefore steal food. A particularly disturbing report which appeared recently advised Wonga.com are making profits of £1,000,000 per week. In the north of England a substantial number of people now face several equally unappealing choices:
- Begging-which is what visiting a foodbank is
- Stealing-which is what shoplifting is
- Using a loan shark
- All of the above
This has resulted in a widespread feeling of fear and hopelessness which is being completely ignored. We are being advised the recession is over and everything is getting better. It is in the south east where the vast majority of Conservative supporters live. As you travel further north the situation becomes gradually worse. There is no housing boom and no prospect or any economic improvement. It is worth noting the incentive to get young people on the housing ladder is very good news for the bankers who are supported enthusiastically by George Osborne regardless of their track record. It is only possible for banks to charge interest for twenty five years if they lend the money in the first place. It will ensure their profits continue to rise and their support for the government continues. We have members of our society who are struggling to provide food and others are lining their pockets. It is grotesque and unacceptable
The latest government initiative is to insist benefit claimants work to obtain their benefit. It is easy to understand the principle but it is open to abuse. It will soon become a source of free labour for unscrupulous employers. The best alternative for benefit claimants could be a zero hours contract, which provides no security and is being widely criticised.
It should be made clear this is not intended to be seen as a complaint about the north being abandoned, and about this appalling injustice. It is intended to raise awareness of a situation which is commercially and socially damaging on a national scale. There is no doubt there are currently serious economic problems, which are not being solved, regardless of what is being said. It has been reported 30.0% of retail premises in Stockport are empty, which is very worrying. The problem is being made far worse by the local authorities, which refuse to provide financial incentives to entrepreneurs to open retail premises.
This would be a good opportunity for the government to insist local authorities provide incentives such as rate free periods or help with salaries for staff who are provided with employment. It seems very short sighted to make it difficult or impossible for entrepreneurs to start a business and provide jobs, when they should be given every encouragement. It would be easy for the government to introduce some form of incentive which will certainly result in increased employment and increased prosperity. There would be no financial loss to the local authority. They are currently receiving no rates as a result of the premises being empty, so there is no possibility they will be worse off if they do not receive any rates for the first year of trading. However, every local business could benefit from customers who are now employed spending money they did not previously have available as a result of securing employment in a business being supported by this form of initiative.
It is surprising to think the government have not already realised this opportunity is being missed. It is a similar situation with other towns and cities, and is resulting in talent being wasted and opportunities being lost. It will mean the conservatives will continue to be completely unelectable in the north. It is ironic to think the party which says it supports small business cannot provide the support which could help the north to recover and make a sustained and valuable contribution to economic recovery and ultimately to economic prosperity.
Tom McManus has worked in education and training for over 25 years. During this time, he has taught in the prison service, universities, schools and colleges. He has also worked as an adviser on education and training to Members of the European Parliament.