The Prime Minister has backed the Yorkshire Evening Post’s A City Divided campaign which is highlighting the growing gulf of inequality across Leeds – but he claimed it would take up to a decade to stop the gap widening.
During a visit to the YEP’s office this week, Boris Johnson was asked how it was possible to have such a divided city with a centre that is booming while, within a mile of that, people were living in extreme poverty and relying on foodbanks to feed their children.
Mr Johnson said that it was an issue that needed addressing and the key to solving the crisis was education, infrastructure and bringing the two parts of the city together.
The PM told the YEP: “Yes you [Leeds] have got a fantastic record on employment, beating unemployment, that’s no good if the wages aren’t high enough. You need to drive up skills, you need to drive up productivity.
“Those are the big answers. You do that with the solutions of education, infrastructure and technology, bring the two parts of Leeds, the many parts of Leeds that don’t feel joined up, you join them up in that way.
“I’m not pretending it’s a quick fix but it can be done in ten years or eight years, that’s the sort of timescale you’re looking at, but you will achieve amazing things here in that sort of timescale.”
Yorkshire Evening Post campaign
It comes after the YEP launched our A City Divided campaign, following the revelation that there is a ten year difference in life expectancy for babies born in the most affluent and most deprived parts of the city – which are just a few miles apart.
In a four-day special report we looked at Harewood, classed as the city’s most affluent ward, and Harehills, among the most deprived areas of the city, if not the entire country and compared life in the two places which are just seven miles apart.
In Harewood life expectancy for men is 85 and 88.6 for women, while in Harehills it is 76 and 81.2 respectively. Statistics also show Harewood is the least populated council ward in the city with 19, 423 while Gipton and Harehills ward has the second highest population with 32,308. Of those, 63 per cent are from an ethnic minority background and more than 16 per cent of households don’t have English as a first language.
Half a per cent of the Harewood population claims unemployment benefits compared to nearly 17 per cent in Harehills.
On the inequalities, Mr Johnson said: “I care deeply about it and I know it’s true.
“It’s got to be addressed.
“You’ve got to level up. When I was mayor of London, life expectancy fell for a year on every one of the eight stops between Westminster and Canning Town because of the huge disparities in opportunity and income. That was when I started off. By the end, there had been a huge approximation, the bottom 20 per cent had got richer the fastest, life expectancy had increased for the poorest. That’s all about regeneration, all about things like transport infrastructure, broadband, being able to get to your place of work, education.
“I believe that talent is uniformly distributed but opportunities are unfairly distributed.
“Education is the way to solve that. It’s also about high wage jobs.
“We have too many low skill, low wage jobs. We need to be a high wage, low tax society. People on low incomes are seeing increases now, but it needs to go up faster.”
In recent weeks, our campaign has also investigated how two streets with the same name in the same city can have very different lives and how issues like crime, transport and child poverty all contribute to social inequality.
The series over the coming weeks will also take into account how differing issues around health, housing, ethnic minorities and education can also have a huge impact on the success and happiness people make of their lives.