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Covid has deepened the inequalities between the north and south, study finds

‘This is an urgent wake up call’

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David Dixon/Geograph & Number 10/Flickr

A thinktank has warned, in an ‘urgent wake-up call’ to Boris Johnson that there are deepening inequalities between the north and south of England with little sign of the governments ‘levelling up’ agenda becoming a reality.

The government’s ‘levelling up’ policy lacks any plans a year after the election and following months of further widening between the north and south.

The ‘State of the North’ report, which is released annually, has pointed out gaps in wages, productivity and health between the region.

Covid has also had an ‘uneven impact across England’ says the research was done by thinktank IPPR. Extra restrictions have hit places such as Greater Manchester since the first lockdown, ‘creating new regional inequalities and deepening old ones’.

The pandemic ‘has powerfully demonstrated the weaknesses and cost’ of dictating too much from London and underlined the ‘reluctance of the centre to cede control’.

The research claims that a year after the general election, the ‘levelling up’ agenda is still ‘most striking for its lack of detail’. However, the Treasury has denied such claims.

The annual assessment says, many people in the North ‘already live in a low-wage economy, which is not delivering good outcomes in income, health, or routes out of poverty’.

People in the north west are paid 80p less an hour than the English average but there are also few job opportunities per person across north England when compared to the country as a hole.

Number 10/Flickr

Before Covid hit, most northern areas had healthy life expectancies below the English average with 60% of them seeing a decline in that measure for women in the past decade.

By October, unemployment in the north has hit its highest point since 1994, particularly impacted places such as Blackpool, Hull and Middlesborough. 

The report points out the fundamental connection between health and wealth explaining that ‘if the northern economy is to work for people, it needs to support good health in the northern population’.

It goes onto explain that long-term inequalities within England have been thrown ‘into a stark spotlight’ following Covid-19. Adding that any recovery that ‘simply restores the old order’ would be ‘unsustainable and – for many – unacceptable’.

Covid-19 has also created new regional divides and deepened old ones. 

The report states: “Parts of the north of England have seen especially high rates of infection and have been subject to more severe ‘local lockdown’ measures than many other parts of the country.”

Speaking on the ‘levelling up’, something it describes as one of the ‘latest in a long history of initiatives’ that is ‘most striking for its lack of detail on how rebalancing is to be achieved’.

It continues: “Some attempts to deal with England’s regional divides can seem highly politicised, designed with an eye to electoral outcomes, particularly in marginal seats,

“Successive governments have been keen to be seen to take action and to claim credit for any change.

“This has created an unhealthy situation where efforts to tackle regional inequalities and implement devolution have been constrained by an overly controlling hand in Westminster. Covid-19 has powerfully demonstrated the weaknesses and cost of this approach and the reluctance of the centre to cede control to elected leaders in combined and local authorities.”

The report goes onto explain the deep inadequacies in the UK’s centralised system of government, in particular for dealing with a crisis like Covid-19.

“The establishment of a highly centralised and outsourced system of ‘track and trace’, which has repeatedly failed to deliver, has been a prime example of where Whitehall has overlooked local expertise and capacity,” it says. It also criticises the loss of a minister devoted to the Northern Powerhouse.

Sarah Longlands, director of IPPR North, said the government ‘was elected on a promise to level up places like the North’.

Number 10/Flickr

“But one year on, they don’t have a plan to reduce inequalities between and within regions in England, and the inadequate, centrally controlled, competitive ‘levelling up fund’ announced in the spending review simply won’t cut it.

“Our regional divides are severe and growing, we face a climate emergency, and Brexit is just around the corner, so a recovery from Covid-19 that simply restores the status-quo – which has failed so many Northerners – would be unacceptable.

“We need to challenge old, reductive assumptions about our economy because they’ve failed to create the conditions for a good life for everyone in the North.

“In particular, we have to stop assuming that the centre knows best and commit once and for all to a clear programme of regional devolution in England. We cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of the past.

“If we are to build a better future, we need to focus on people, asking ‘who benefits?’ from policy decisions. From our research we can see that many people, particularly those in work and children, are not benefitting from them. Here in the North we can and will power up, level up, rise up together- but every moment that we don’t have the power and resources we need to do this, peoples’ lives are affected.

“This is a wake-up call. Is the Government listening?”

David Dixon/Geograph

A spokesperson for the Treasury explains that the government had spent ‘record sums’ (£280bn) supporting families and jobs throughout the crisis.

The pointed to an increase in the national living wage, as well as a £2bn ‘restart’ scheme to help people avoid long-term unemployment. 

“We are totally committed to levelling up opportunities across the whole of the UK as we build back better,” they said.

“We already taken significant steps including announcing new investment in new green technologies, like carbon capture, which will create thousands of high quality jobs in the North, setting out plans for Freeports to boost growth across the UK, and investing £100 billion in infrastructure to boost growth next year.

“Our new £4 billion Levelling Up fund to support the fabric of everyday life, like highstreets, or train stations, is just one part of a whole of Government commitment.

“In the Treasury that includes reforming the Green Book, which appraises the funding of projects, to focus on regional impact, as well as plans to open a new Treasury office and our new UK infrastructure bank in the North in the coming year.

“The Civil Service as a whole has committed to relocating 22,000 civil service roles outside of London and the South East, as well as a step change in investment in skills to boost people’s chances of success wherever they live.”

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First ever permanent pug cafe to open in Greater Manchester

If you’re a fan of pugs, you’re going to love this!

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Cuppapug

A brand new cafe full of adorable and playful pugs is set to open in Greater Manchester.

You could go for a coffee and cake while 10 cute pugs cuddle, play and come for treats from your hands at this brand new cafe concept opening on Chapel Street in Salford.

Already a huge hit in London, with visitors from near and far, Cuppapug will be opening its first café in the North West – and its second venue – with a soft launch on Friday March 1st.

Cuppapug

Pug lovers can book in at the cafe for an hour of crazy or chilled pug time, suitable for all the family to enjoy.

Cuppapug is a cafe concept created by couple – and owners of seven pugs – Aaron Carty and Matthew Pieterse, who opened the doors to their first venue in London in 2022.

Fully opening to the public on March 21st, visitors to Cuppapug can expect the adorable, furry four-legged friends running around the cafe, playing in ball pits and eating carrots and treats from your hands.

The menu will feature a host of doggy-themed drinks and cakes as well as treats for the doggos such as puppuccinos.

Cuppapug

In case you’re wondering where the pugs go at the end of the day, each one belongs to local owners who drop their loveable fur baby off at the cafe for a day of mischief and fun.

Also in the CuppaPug family are Gaston, Bruce, Bowser, Beau, Gizmo, Bebe, and Baloo – Aaron and Matt’s pugs who’ve been staying with them at The Kimpton Clocktower as they prep the site for opening.

Speaking to Proper Manchester about the new opening, Aaron said: “We chose Manchester because we discovered it is a city full of dog lovers who love pugs.

“We get so many people visiting our London cafe from the North, we’ve even people catching flights from Hawaii, so it seemed like the right place to open our next Cuppapug.”

Cuppapug

On why he and Matt love pugs so much, Aaron said: “I think of pugs being a lot like myself and I also love an underdog – and pugs are an underdog of the dog world.

“People think they are unfit, unhealthy and have breathing issues but that’s not true. We actually train our pugs to enjoy carrots, walk a lot, and our pet pugs enjoy a steak night every week – even I don’t get that!”

The Salford Cuppapug will also be partnering with Manchester Pug Thing, who rescue and rehome pugs, with £1 from every ticket going towards the pug rescue charity.

Aaron added: “We’ve had such overwhelming support and positive messages about our Manchester opening, it’s been absolutely amazing. 

“It’s already a nerve-wrecking experience deciding to open a second venue but we’re really happy to have chosen to do it in Manchester and we’re really happy Manchester has chosen us. We’ve had so many drivers going past and beeping us and people asking ‘is this the pug place?’

“We’re having a launch party on March 21st and are really excited to open.”

CuppaPug officially opens to the public on March 21st 6-10pm, following a soft launch this Friday (March 1st). You can find the cafe and pugs on Chapel Street, Salford – it’s bright pink, you can’t miss it!

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Primary school in Greater Manchester evacuated after nearby ‘gas explosion’

BREAKING:

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Tamoor Tariq / Facebook

A primary school in Greater Manchester has been evacuated after a ‘gas explosion’ at a nearby house.

The incident happened earlier today (February 28th) near to St Luke’s primary school in Bury.

Councillor Tamoor Tariq said everyone who lived nearby has also been taken to a place of safety after the blast, which happened in the Fishpool area.

At around 12pm, he posted on Facebook: “Heartbreaking to share there has been a gas explosion in the last few minutes right across from my house.

Tamoor Tariq / Facebook

“I understand everyone has been taken into a place of safety and emergency services are doing all possible to deal with this awful situation.

“St Luke’s primary have also evacuated children, as they are just yards away. I remain out of the country due to a family member being critical, but I am keeping in touch with all relevant people/authorities.”

In a further comment, Mr Tamoor added: “An elderly neighbour has been taken into hospital, all others affected are in a safe and secure place of their choosing. Praying our neighbour will be ok and get the treatment she needs.”

Tamoor Tariq / Facebook

A Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service spokesperson said ‘multiple crews’ had been dispatched to the scene.

They added: “Residents in the area are advised to keep windows and doors closed and avoid the scene while crews carry out their work.”

A woman in her 70s has been taken to hospital with ‘serious injuries’, Greater Manchester Police said.

Tamoor Tariq / Facebook

Issuing a statement on social media, GMP said: “Emergency services are currently responding to a report of an explosion at a property on Nelson Street in the Fishpool area of Bury.

“At this stage, a woman in her 70s has been taken to hospital with serious injuries. A 200 metre cordon is in place around the property and neighbouring homes.

“Local residents and the community will be made aware if they need to take any further action.”

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Iceland announces it’s discounting baby formula to cut price of £7.95

Iceland CEO Richard Walker says says ‘businesses need to step up and do more’

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Edward Hands / Wikimedia & Iceland

Iceland has launched reduced cost baby formula in a bid to do more to help families through the cost of living crisis.

Iceland CEO Richard Walker is determined to bring down the cost of baby formula, and says ‘businesses need to step up and do more’.

The businessman has made it his mission after hearing heartbreaking tales from parents who have been struggling to feed their families amid spiralling costs.

Edward Hands / Wikimedia

Mr Walker, a dad-of-two, told Metro: “We’ve heard terrible stories of customers watering down feeds, skipping feeds or ignoring sell by dates, all of which is really bad for the baby. That prompted us to take action.”

Iceland slashed prices earlier this year, revealing three of its Aptamil formula milk products would sell at £11.20 – a move which led other supermarkets including Asda and Tesco to reduce their own prices. 

Now, Iceland has confirmed it is selling 800g of SMA’s Little Steps formula milk for £7.95 across its stores and online from Tuesday February 27th – £1.80 cheaper than its rivals.

Ben Kerckx / Wikimedia

Mr Walker insisted it’s not just a clever business move either, as he continued: “The price is a mind-blowing £7.95 which makes it the cheapest infant formula milk on the market. I think it will really really help our customers.

“We’re not making any profit out of this now. We’re passing on the savings which we’re managing to persuade the manufacturer to give straight on to our customers.”

The baby formula industry is currently under investigation after prices rose by an average of 25% in the past two years.

Donald_Trung / Wikimedia

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has said it is looking into whether companies have been exploiting parents for profit.

Iceland’s launch of lower priced baby formula has also gained the support of Mumsnet.

The eight-million strong parenting group have announced they are joining forces with Formula For Change – Metro’s campaign to lower baby formula prices.

Mr Walker has also signed the petition and is calling on parents to sign it and help push it over the line.

Politicians may soon be forced to address the scandal as the Formula for Change petition is almost at the 100,000 signatures mark – the crucial threshold needed for a parliamentary debate on the issue.

Mr Walker also told the publication: “Formula for Change is absolutely fantastic. The Prime Minister has said he is ‘sad’ families are watering down formula to try and make it last longer, but again these are just words.”

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