Plans for a united Europe in 1992 and the arrival of the Channel tunnel in 1993 will drive a deeper wedge between England’s affluent South-east and the rest of the country. But as the South-east triangle prospers, the quality of life for people living in London and the Home Counties will steadily worsen.
Overcrowding, the shortage of houses, congestion on the roads and the problems of commuting by train have already led 41 per cent of people in the South-east to say they would like to escape from the expense, the stress and the high crime rate, Mintel, a market research company says.
It has conducted a comprehensive survey of life in Britain today and says people living in London and its surrounds are caught in the “affluence trap”; although they enjoy high wages, cars and other material comforts, they yearn for the tranquility of the Yorkshire Dales and Devon countryside.
Mr Frank Fletcher, Mintel’s research director, said that as matters stood, there was no prospect of the great divide between the South-east triangle and the rest of the country narrowing. If anything, the wedge would widen.
“The South-east is already out of step with the rest of the country in both social and economic terms. Northerners eat fish and chips, cakes and soups, while southerners eat a cosmopolitan mixture of food.
“Northerners don’t like rapid changes in clothes fashions, while southerners do, to enable them to express themselves. Northerners go to pubs and drink beer, while southerners go to restaurants and drink gin and tonic. And all these things happen because of the socio-economic pressures.
“Southerners are involved in the affluence trap. They are materialistic and competitive in a way that northerners are not. Southerners are trying to keep up with the Joneses and greater competition means greater stress”, Mr Fletcher said.
“Southerners are better off, but the quality of life leaves a lot to be desired. What turns on the yuppies and high-flyers of the South-east would put off the more conservative northerners.”
Mr Fletcher defined “the South” as the triangle from Poole, Dorset, to Peterborough, taking in all of London and the south-east coastal areas.
Mintel’s report says much of the blame for the divide must rest on the Government’s shoulders and problems could worsen when new policies, now imminent, diversify the provision of education from one part of the country to another.
“Although many encouraging signs of industrial regeneration were noted in parts of the North and there is no reason to suggest that the pockets of prosperity will not continue to flourish the tilt of economic prosperity and political power to the South-east will continue”, the report says.
New media developments will also enhance regional and local diversity, particularly the decentralized printing of national newspapers and the predicted onslaught of cable television.
The report says even regional accents are becoming more pronounced as local radio and television stations exert their influence. Their resurgence has been a marked cultural phenomenon since the Second World War. The tendency before then was towards standard southern English, in theory if not always in regional practice, and the BBC was a strong force in that direction.
However, starting with Wilfred Pickles reading the news during the war in a modified Yorkshire accent, the BBC has increasingly given rein to regional variations of standard English, the report says. Commercial television, too, has promoted regional accents.
On the quality of life in Britain, Mintel says that commuting renders virtually every other residential area in the country preferable to Greater London.
“The attractions of the metropolis may outweigh this particular factor but the horrors of the Northern Line on the Underground or the south-east section of British Rail are unparalleled in any other part of the country.”
Road traffic management is better in the North than in the South, and certainly better than in London. And although London is the prime tourist attraction for overseas visitors, the main natural attractions are in the north and west of England.
In a region-by-region examination of consumer attitudes, 48 per cent of those questioned by Mintel in London said they were financially better off than they were a year ago, compared with the national average of 41 per cent. Fifty per cent of northerners said they were worse off.
However, using its own research and that of both official and private organizations, Mintel produced a list of what people regarded as the most important dimensions affecting their quality of life. Crime, violent or not, came top of the list, with health provision next; then pollution, the cost of living, shopping facilities, racial harmony, cost of housing, scenic quality and educational facilities.
Mintel then added the factors of employment prospects, wage levels, climate, sports facilities, commuting time, leisure facilities, quality of council housing, access to council housing and the cost of rents to find Britain’s top-ranked cities.
Edinburgh headed the league, with Aberdeen second and Plymouth third. London was ranked thirty-fourth, just above Wolverhampton, Coventry, Walsall and Birmingham.
London had the highest proportion of people who wished to move to another part of the country if possible (41 per cent). In contrast, only 15 per cent of people questioned in the South-west felt the same way.
People living in Scotland, Wales and the west of England were most worried about the prospect of unemployment (41 per cent). Londoners were the least worried (71 per cent were unconcerned).
A significant increase in car ownership is shown in the report. In Greater London, 42.4 per cent of all households own one car, while 12.5 per cent own two cars and 2.3 per cent three or more. In East Anglia, 52.7 per cent of households own one car and 17.8 per cent two. In the South-west, 48.1 per cent own one car and 19.6 per cent own two. The lowest density of two-car families is the North (7.9 per cent).
Color television sets are owned by 85 per cent of households in the UK, while 28 per cent own videos. Television is the universal indoor leisure pursuit all over the UK.
On average, 89 per cent of people said their top audio-visual pleasure was watching television, followed by listening to the radio (50 per cent), playing records and tapes (37 per cent), watching videoed television (29 per cent), watching video cassettes (19 per cent), listening to radio or cassettes in the car (20 per cent) and using a home computer (6 per cent).
Other leisure pursuits show sharp regional differences. Cricket is hardly played in Scotland and tends to be more popular in the South than in the North, “although it continues to have quasi-religious status in Yorkshire”.
Rugby League is the game of Lancashire and Yorkshire, while Rugby Union is played in the South. Bowls is played on a crown green in the North and on a flat surface in the South. Lacrosse is a peculiarity of Lancashire and Cheshire.
The report says Scots have a higher propensity for outdoor activities than the English or Welsh, but adds that Scots are closer to suitable countryside.
That is particularly true of golf. It is a game more generally played in Scotland, which is its home, “and does not have the middle-class connotations there that it has south of the border”.
As for evening entertainment, visiting a public house or club is the favorite pastime in all regions. On average, 37 per cent of adults in Britain spend more than an hour a week in public houses or clubs. The next most popular evening activities are entertaining at home; eating out; going to dances or discotheques; visiting a wine or cocktail bar; and going to the cinema, theatre, concert, ballet or opera.