The North South divide is something we’ve all heard about.
Studies, facts and figures have long revealed there’s a divide culturally, economically and socially based on what part of the country you live in.
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With Covid-19 cases increasing in the North of England, the divide is prevalent once again with cases of Covid-19 in the North of the country increasing faster than cases in the South.
According to data, two thirds of UK hospitalisations from Covid-19 are in Yorkshire, the North East and North West.
Some areas of the North did not see so many cases in the "first wave", so part of the reason that the growth is accelerated now, compared to London for example, is that significantly lower proportion of people have been exposed already, making it easier for the virus to spread.
However, there is more to it than that…
I’m a born and bred Northerner from Burnley, and I did my medical training in Newcastle.
I witnessed poverty levels in the North-East; parents working three jobs to keep food on the table, zero hours contracts where quarantining for a fortnight means losing your job and families of five in two bedroom flats in tower blocks where one infected, is likely to mean all infected.
Yes, we all need to comply with the rules and lockdowns put in place but for some people that can be both practically and financially impossible.
If you’re living hand to mouth, and face losing your job unless you turn up, what do you do if your child comes home from school with a fever? What would any of us choose?
If owning a car is a pipe dream and putting food on the table is your number one concern, how are you going to travel 100 miles for a Covid-19 test?
It’s easy to say your postcode shouldn’t determine your level of risk of getting Covid-19 but the reality is it will and there’s no simple solution to that.
Poverty, jobs, pre-existing conditions, ethnicity and socioeconomic issues are all factors which have their part to play in the rise in Northern cases, and here’s how…
Whilst there are pockets of extreme poverty in some areas of the south, overall poverty is without a doubt the first and biggest factor to look at when it comes to a North: South divide.
Recent figures from a University of Loughborough study found the poverty rate rising fastest in the North East where a quarter of all children are living in poverty.
Public Health England has the coronavirus rate per 100,000 of the population in Middlesbrough at 250.4, which puts it in a high-risk category and figures show the same area has 4 in 10 children there living below the breadline.
It can be argued there’s a correlation between the two statistics.
Car ownership is higher in the south than the north of England so if you’re told you need to get to a test centre 100 miles away, for some in the North, that’s impossible.
Poverty impacts every aspect of life, from what food you can buy to keep your children healthy, to how often you can keep the heating on, and how likely you are to suffer from stress and depression, which can affect the decisions you make.
Poverty is the biggest factor affecting health differences between the north and the south.
We already know if you live in the North you’re at a higher risk of cancer.
Official figures from the Office of National Statistics found there’s one cancer diagnosis for every 154 people in the North East compared to one in every 176 people in the south.
The same goes for type 2 diabetes with rates in the North almost a fifth higher than in the South East and we see similar figures when it comes to obesity, heart disease, mental health conditions and blood pressure.
We know Covid-19 complications are more likely if you have these pre-existing health conditions, and these are simply more prevalent in the North.
Poverty is yet again the predominant, and unfair cause of these variations.
People are more likely to be predisposed to these health conditions if you’re socioeconomically worse off.
You might not be able to afford a good balanced diet with fresh fruit and veg, you might not have time to exercise or afford a gym membership.
Living in or close to poverty increases stress levels which can lead to many pre existing conditions.
WORKING FROM HOME
Figures show people in the South have continued to work from home yet in the North with more jobs in industry people have returned to their workplace.
Not only does that mean multiple households mixing in the workplace but factoring in car ownership, people are commuting on public transport to get to their place of work so there’s a potential double exposure to the virus if you have a blue collar job you can’t do from home compared to a white collar one you can do from home in the South.
Households in the North are statistically more likely to contain multiple generations and there are several increased Covid19 risks attached to this.
Parents who work might have to rely on grandparents to help with school runs and childcare but the older generation is more at risk of Covid-19 complications because of their age and if you’re in an at risk group because of your age but are mixing with children and their parents who have mixed all day at work, your risk inherently increases.
Not to mention there’s an ethnic divide between the North and South (London excluded) with the North containing a higher concentration of minority ethnic communities, who have been found to be at increased risk of Covid-19 complications.
Firstly, there are plenty of University cities in the North; Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle, Liverpool, Sheffield, Northumbria – which confirmed 770 cases just this week.
In university accommodation it can be tough to self-isolate effectively if you’re sharing facilities with housemates, as you have no control over what others may choose to do.
It’s an awful time for young people. I speak to patients at my practice who are living in overcrowded flats, in high-rise blocks, with young children and teenage children together.
When a baby needs a nap, it’s impossible to expect a teenager to be quiet for an hour or so and as a result teenagers are leaving the house and of course then mixing with friends.
We all have a personal responsibility to do what we can to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
But we must also recognise that doing the right thing can be extremely difficult and come with huge sacrifice, especially for those who are already living difficult lives.
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