Austerity and centralisation robbed the North of economic success, a leading think tank says.
Decent jobs, wages and opportunities are becoming increasingly unattainable across the region according to the State Of The North 2020 annual report from the Institute of Public Policy North (IPPR North).
The authors say the UK entered a global pandemic with deep, growing divides between and within regions caused by decades of centralisation and 10 years of austerity.
And the Covid-19 pandemic makes the challenge of reducing regional inequalities even greater and more urgent than before, the report adds.
The North is now experiencing levels of unemployment not seen for a quarter of a century, especially concentrated in northern cities and coastal towns, with Blackpool, Middlesbrough and Hull, currently under Tier 3 restrictions, among the worst affected.
Rates of child poverty are higher, with healthy life expectancy lower than across England, it warns.
Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds MP said the report was a “damning indictment of a decade of broken Conservative promises to rebalance the UK economy.”
She said: “This has to be a wakeup call for the Government.
“They must end the empty rhetoric around big projects that are often stalled for years or even not delivered at all.
“Instead we need urgent action to tackle the root causes of regional inequality.”
The report highlights the growing economic gap between the North and South, with fewer job opportunities and median wages in the North lower than England as a whole with five million northern workers paid less than the real living wage.
It came after regional development agencies were set up by Labour in 1998, then abolished under the coalition government in 2012, and central government blowing hot and cold over the Northern Powerhouse agenda pushed by former chancellor George Osborne.
Last month Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a £4 billion “Levelling Up Fund” and reforms in the way the Treasury assesses the value for money of big infrastructure spending projects to remove a long-standing bias against funding in northern England and other regions.
Director of IPPR North Sarah Longlands said successive governments of all colours have failed the North in the past.
She said: “There’s a warning for all governments in the future if you want to help the North you need to start dealing with inequalities.
“We are now at a critical moment because Covid-19 has been a lightning rod to show just how serious the inequalities are.
“The Government was elected on a promise to ‘level up’ places like the North.
“But one year on, they don’t have a plan to reduce inequalities between and within regions in England, and the inadequate, centrally controlled, competitive ‘levelling up fund’ announced in the spending review simply won’t cut it.
“We need to challenge old, reductive assumptions about our economy because they’ve failed to create the conditions for a good life for everyone in the North.
“In particular, we have to stop assuming that the centre knows best and commit once and for all to a clear programme of regional devolution in England.
“This is a wake-up call. Is the Government listening?”
A HM Treasury Spokesperson said: “Recovering from Coronavirus is the biggest challenge the UK has faced in living memory and we can’t shy away from the fact our national recovery will be difficult. But we are totally committed to levelling up opportunities across the whole of the UK as we build back better.
“Whilst we have taken unprecedented action to protect jobs through the furlough scheme we have also taken significant steps with new investment in green technologies to create thousands of high quality jobs in the North, setting out plans for Freeports, and investing £100 billion in infrastructure to boost growth.
“Our new £4 billion Levelling Up fund will support the fabric of everyday life, including high streets and train stations. The Treasury is also reforming the Green Book, which appraises the funding of projects, to focus on regional impact, as well as plans to open a new Treasury office and our new UK infrastructure bank in the North in the coming year.
“The Civil Service has committed to relocating 22,000 civil service roles outside of London and the South East, as well as a step change in investment in skills to boost people’s chances of success wherever they live.”