As I was driving along the A6 today, between Carnforth and Morecambe, on my way to visit an elderly patient, I experienced in the space of a few moments both exhilaration and dismay. I was exhilarated by the magnificent view of the mountains of Cumbria, just across the Bay in the beautiful sunshine and felt very grateful for living in such an inspiring and spacious place. And then onto my radio, came the voice of the Prime Minister in response to Jeremy Corbyn at PMQs. He was asking David Cameron about the lack of government response to the floods in Cumbria of 2014. This direct lack of action across the North of England (despite clear warnings) contributed to the appalling flooding that thousands of people have experienced over the last month. That, coupled with de-forrestation and the clearing of land upstream was a recipe for disaster once the storms hit us. Mr Cameron, however, seemed to think it more important to mock Mr Corbyn on his shadow cabinet reshuffle rather than address the very serious questions in hand. The floods have been no laughing matter for the North. They have been devastating and could have been avoided had the North been treated with equity to the South.
The North is a remarkable place, filled with people of great heart and courage, a people who have historically had the ability to unite at a level to bring about significant change. As one example, it was a petition of the people of Liverpool, Manchester and Sheffield that saw the end of the slave trade in the UK. So, when the people of the North get a fire in their bellies, you can guarantee that change will come.
Well, the floods are serving as a catalyst for this fire. The floods are only another indication of the injustice the North suffers in favour of the politically lucrative South. The South is not to blame and nor is this post intended to be divisive in any way, but it is high time that the North stood up to be treated as an equal partner and not a poorer brother. In my area of passion, health and well-being, the differences between the North and South are completely unacceptable and indeed detrimental when it comes to making effective change to health outcomes.
As already stated on this blog, despite all the worst health outcomes being in the North, 94% of all health research money is currently spent south of Cambridge. We have conclusive evidence from the Academic and Health Science Network, that health outcomes are significantly better in places where research is carried out , because funding follows the research.
We also know, from Health Education England, that when a direct comparison is made head for head between the North and South when it comes to recruitment and staffing levels there is a £17million deficit in the North. It’s not that we can’t attract people to work here, we’re just not given the money to pay for them in the same way.
When it comes to council cuts, again we see the North punished in comparison to the South, even though the need is greater here – which area has the highest use of food banks? The answer is the North West! If you study the map on council cuts (deep red = heaviest cuts, blue = increase in spend) – you will see just one blue area in the North, but major areas of protection and even significant growth in budgets for the South.
In Lancashire alone, the county council has to cut £262 million from their budget in the next 2 years. This is going to have devastating consequences to public health provision and social services, which is in in effect a cut to the NHS also. We are already seeing severe bed blockages in our hospitals and without social workers to support our elderly citizens, the crisis will only deepen.
My hope is that the North harnesses the emerging fire to come to a place of equal partnership with the South, raising its voice for justice and love rather than in vindictive, competitive vitriol. I hope that the North will together decide what it is to become a “Northern Powerhouse” rather than being prescribed what it will mean via the ideas and ideals of the Chancellor in Westminster. From my perspective, the North is about a different way of doing things. The North stands for a more equitable and co-operative society. In this moment the North can stand for a forward looking culture in which:
Men and women are equal.
Children are prioritised.
The environment is stewarded well.
Hospitality is an art form, practised and adhered to, where all are welcome and all can find a home.
Inter-culturalism thrives as mutual respect for difference is a core value.
The elderly are honoured and cared for with dignity.
Justice involves much more restoration and less retribution.
The rich do not become ever richer whilst the poor become ever poorer, but cycles of poverty and deprivation are broken through hope and aspiration.
Work is done, not simply to earn money and pay debt, but to create more joy, beauty and care in the world.
Well-being is more important than economic growth which involves people being used as fodder to drive the ever hungry machine.
People take responsibility for themselves and each other leading to more sustainable systems (health/education/social services etc) for all.
Healthcare and education is free and accessible to all.
The North must rise up, not to dominate but to become a different kind of “powerhouse”. A house in which power is poured out for the sake of those who need it most in order to create a more fair, just, loving and peaceful world. This is the new politics, not the farce we are seeing in the corridors of power. People learning to live together differently, having important conversations together to create a future that is more beautiful. Come on the North – let’s use this passion for good!