The City & The Northern Girl #3

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Image: William Brawley.
Image: William Brawley.

As a Northerner, I see the North and South of England divide made up of three simple factors: wealth, political views and differing attitudes. But according to shocking figures that were announced in June, the split has become much more than that. It is now attacking our health.

According to figures published by Public Health England, taken from 2009-2011, thousands more people in the North of England are dying prematurely – before reaching the age of 75 – than in the South. I don’t know about you, if you’re a Southerner you may be punching the air with glee right now, but this makes me feel incredibly angry.

How can it be justified that someone’s social status at birth can determine the timing of their death? Nine out of the worst ten ‘death-spots’ can be found in the North with Manchester, my lovely next door neighbour, being deemed the worst with 455 premature deaths per 100,000. This is closely followed by Blackpool with 432 and Liverpool with 389, compared to just 214 in leafy Hampshire. And to add insult to injury, it is believed that nearly 103,000 of the 150,000 premature deaths each year were avoidable. Complete joke.

One in five Southerners brand chip shops and mining villages as the defining images of a ‘bleak’ North. Yet almost 5 million Southerners have never actually ventured north to witness such images. However perhaps that 15% of the Southern population aren’t far from the truth, as the reasons emerging for this huge health divide include a claim that Northerners eat more saturated fats (hence the chip shop image) and have a higher proportion of manual workers.

Perhaps the North’s health can be traced all the way back to the industrial years, with entire counties polluted by fumes, dust and smoke from both the factories and mining pits. It could be said that those who live in the North simply have tougher lives than those down South, as they struggle with long hours, physical labour and lower wages. However this doesn’t account for the Southern pockets of poverty found within the figures, as Tower Hamlets stands at number 14 in the top 20 ‘death-spots’, thus proving the long-debated link between wealth and health.

Money means purchasing good quality food. Money means being able to afford a well-earned holiday from work. Money means lower stress levels linked to employment. Money means a better quality of housing. Money means not having to work those extra hours to ensure you can afford to feed your children, pay the bills and keep a roof over your head. Money can mean a lot of things.

The major killers responsible for these deaths include strokes and cancer, as well as heart, liver and lung disease. Delve further into the statistics and you find an even more alarming divide as it emerges where you are born, deems how you are most likely to die. Take me for instance; being from the outskirts of Manchester suggests a strong chance of a premature death from either heart disease or a stroke (116 per 100,000) or cancer (152 per 100,000).

However if you’re my flatmate from Bournemouth, Dorset then the odds are in your favour, with just 88 per 100,000 dying prematurely from cancer and 42 per 100,000 from heart disease and strokes. My frightening statistics are halved for her, just because she was born 250 miles south of me. And this is a nation striving for equality?

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