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New study reveals widening gap between rich and poor

Press release issued: 30 June 2004

The first comprehensive study of 2001 Census data, published today by The Policy Press, shows that the north-south divide in the United Kingdom is getting worse.

The first comprehensive study of 2001 Census data, published today by The Policy Press, shows that the north-south divide in the United Kingdom is getting worse.

Researchers at the University of Sheffield have created a Census atlas of the UK, which compares 2001 Census data with data from 1991. The atlas maps the current picture and change in all key Census topics, from age and sex to qualifications and employment. It also reports on trends and statistics on poverty, income and wealth from the Breadline Britain Surveys and other sources.

One of the key findings of the study is the growing dominance of London in terms of attracting the young and well educated, employment and wealth. London's growth is in striking contrast to the rest of the country. At the same time, the greatest extremes of wealth and poverty are to be found in London.

Co-author of the report, Professor Daniel Dorling said:"Our conclusion is that the country is being split in half. To the south is the metropolis of Greater London, to the north and west is the 'archipelago of the provinces' - city islands that appear to be slowly sinking demographically, socially and economically. On the maps shown here, the UK is looking more and more like a city-state. It is a Kingdom united only by history, increasingly divided by its geography."

Specifically, the study finds that:

  • More households overall are now poorer (up from 21% in 1991 to 24% in 2001).
  • The poorest local authority areas in 1991 are still the poorest in 2001 (the London boroughs of Tower Hamlets and Hackney).  Almost half the households in these two boroughs live in poverty up 9% and 7.5% respectively on 1991. Outside London, Glasgow leads with 41% of households living in poverty.
  • The wealthiest boroughs in 1991 are still the wealthiest (Hart and South Bucks) - with increases in wealth of just over 1.5% of households, in each case, since 1991.

In London and the south of England the boom in the financial sector has been so great that it has altered the demographic balance of the UK:

  • There were 1.7 million more people working in banking and finance in 2001 than in 1991 - the largest growing sector in the country. Most of this growth has been in and around London. Those working in skilled trades have declined most rapidly - down half a million in the last 10 years, almost exclusively in the North.
  • The population is slowly moving south. Skilled young people have moved in unprecedented numbers towards and into the capital, displacing older and sicker people and the less skilled.  The share of all university graduates in the UK living in London has increased from 16% to 20% since 1991.
  • At the same time, most major cities outside London have experienced population decline with Birmingham down 3%, Glasgow and Liverpool both down 8%, and Manchester down 10% over the last 10 years.
  • The number of people working in unskilled occupations has increased dramatically from 2.1 million in 1991 to 3.2 million in 2001.
  • The highest concentration of people working in unskilled occupations is found in Corby (9.8%). The lowest is in Richmond upon Thames (2.5%).

Other key findings of the report are:

  • The number of people living in the traditional family of two parents with one parent working has fallen by 1.5 million with the greatest decline being of over 6% of the population in the north of Scotland.
  • In 1991, 6.7 million people aged 16 or over suffered from a limiting long-term illness. By 2001 that number had risen to 10.3 million people. The biggest rises have taken place in former mining communities where rates of long-term illness and disability reach highs of over 11% of the population (Merthyr Tydfil and Easington). This compares with lows of 1.5% in Wokingham and Hart.
  • There are more doctors per person in the south of England than in the North and Wales, despite there being fewer ill people in the south. The worst areas for dental care are the boroughs of Blaenau Gwent, Caerphilly, Merthyr Tydfil, Rhondda Cynon Taf and Torfaen in South Wales where the ratio of working dentists to people is 1: 9370 compared with an average of 1: 2500 across England and Wales.

People and places: A 2001 Census atlas of the UK by Daniel Dorling and Bethan Thomas is published by The Policy Press. Price £29.99 (plus £2.75 p&p). It is available from Marston Book Services on Tel: 01235 465500.

Professor Dorling has published several atlases and books on the population of Britain, including The new social atlas of Britain on the 1991 Census. This is the first comprehensive work he has carried out on the 2001 Census.

Dr Thomas is a Researcher at the Department of Geography, University of Sheffield. She is currently working on projecting population characteristics into the future and on the analysis of 15 million historical records of mortality data, official government surveys and flow data from various censuses.

The report examines 125 different topics, illustrated with over 500 full colour maps, and includes rankings of the top and bottom 20 local authorities by household income, poverty and wealth. The Appendix includes a table that ranks each local authority by poor, high income and wealthy households in 1991 and 2001, and shows the percentage change for each authority during that period.

The definition of poverty used in the atlas is the same as that used in the last Breadline Britain survey (1999). People were poor when they lacked three or more necessities because they could not afford them. Necessities being defined as those items that more than 50% of the population believes 'all adults should be able to afford and which they should not have to do without.'

Appendix referred to in Note 2 above, as well as selected pages and maps from the atlas can be viewed at and

The Policy Press is a not-for-profit, editorially independent publisher located at the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Bristol.


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