The History of England

from Celts through 20th century

“Depressed” and “prosperous” areas in England

Category: Economy

Certain parts ofBritain, known at various times as Spe­cial Areas, Development Areas, Development Districts, etc., have been recognised as being persistently and seriously be­low the national level in economic activity and development.

But this is only part of the picture. The very names used are symptomatic of a one-sided approach. The truth is that the situations of the “depressed areas” and “prosperous areas” are intimately connected, are two sides of the same coin which is the British capitalist economy as a whole.

The areas which suffer most are Yorkshire and Lincolnshire,Wales, Northern England, North-Western England,Northern Ireland and Scotland.

The major symptom is the employment situation. At least since the First World War, in good times and bad, the level of unemployment and the availability of jobs has been worse in these areas than in the country as a whole.

Apart from the effects on the. unemployed themselves, the concentration of unemployment in particular regions has wide-ranging effects on the rest of the community. Earnings are substantially lower in high unemployment areas and much of this gap must arise from the lower bargaining strength of the workers.

The relative poverty of the community as a whole is re­flected in poorer social amenities. Housing is poorer, educa­tion is poorer, infant mortality is higher, life expectation is lower and disease is more widespread than in the more pros­perous regions.

A further result of the persistent concentration of unem­ployment is an equally persistent emigration, which in the cases ofScotlandandWalesis a national emigration. The five million population ofScotland, for example, would be seven million but for the emigration over the past century.

This does nothing to solve the problem. A shrunken popu­lation means a shrunken market which means that the area is still less attractive to capitalist investors.

The most serious aspect, however, of emigration in search of jobs is not the loss of so many units of population. It is the fact that emigration is selective. It is not just anyone who emigrates but precisely the youngest, most energetic and most productive members of the community who go, leaving an unbalanced and impoverished population of older and less productive people.

All is not milk and honey in the “prosperous” South- East. Overcrowded urban areas, lack of access to open coun­tryside, rising land values and, therefore, housing costs, long, expensive journeys to work on congested roads and railways are only some of the drawbacks.

For the monopoly capitalists who decide the location of industry there are only the advantages, advantages of a grow­ing market, of a growing and versatile labour force, etc., leading to the ultimate advantage — higher profits.

The pull of the South-East on “growth” industries is a major factor. The problem is indeed one of the entire British economy, not just of the “development” areas.

Another major factor is the existence of, as well as de­pressed and prosperous areas, depressed and prosperous indus­tries.

The great industries of cotton, shipbuilding and mining which were the backbone of Britain — “the Workshop of the World”, in the nineteenth century, also agriculture, are rapidly declining.

The development areas are not only unattractive to the “growth” industries but are also the centres of the declining industries, on which much of the existing employment de­pends.

For example, in1962 inWales, mining accounted for 10.7 per cent of employed persons. In the particular case ofWalesthe decline in mining actually wipes out a slightly better than average performance in “growth” industries.

It is inevitable that a pattern of industry based onBrit­ain’s long vanished industrial monopoly should disappear, that new industries should arise and the old relatively de­cline. It is not so obvious that the change should go hand in hand with the dereliction of whole regions of the country, with the forced migration of masses of population and with the throwing of older workers on the scrap heap.

What is to be done? The problem requires total social and industrial redevelopment.

Comment, Jan. 25, 1964

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