The following appeared as my column in the Barnsley Chronicle on 11th December:

For too long the North has been viewed as secondary to London and the south east – an afterthought for too many in Whitehall.

This week, The State of the North report, by the Institute for Public Policy Research, has held up a mirror to the shameful inequalities which have held back the North and shown yet again how stark the divide is. And it is getting worse.

5 million workers in Northern England are still paid below a living wage.

One third of Northern children are living in poverty.

Healthy life expectancy in the North has fallen for 60% of women.

The report also found that the North, which has been hit harder by the pandemic, was left worse prepared for the crisis than the South by cuts.

The report found that the average public health grant cut, under the Conservatives, was around 15% higher in the North than the national average.

Public health cuts were also higher in areas where Covid-19 mortality has been the highest.

The areas that have had the highest Covid-19 mortality have experienced three and a half times the public health cuts of areas with the lowest Covid-19 mortality.

We’ve seen a lot of branding and PR from this government.

The report finds that levelling-up is ‘one of the most striking [initiatives] for its lack of detail on how rebalancing is to be achieved.’

But we cannot afford ‘levelling up’ to be a meaningless slogan, as so many other so-called ‘rebalancing’ initiatives have been.

The Tories’ disproportionate cuts to the North have already cost lives and livelihoods.

The true test of any economic recovery must be whether it is felt by everyone no matter where they live – but that must begin with a laser focus on investing in the areas that have long been left behind.

As the IPPR have said, ‘this is a wake-up call. The opportunity to live a good life is becoming increasingly unattainable for too many people in the North of England.’

We cannot afford to miss the opportunity to build back better.

To tackle the crises in poverty, jobs and inequality across our region.

That means towns like Barnsley being at the front of the queue for investment and building back better in 2021 – and I will be fighting day in day out to ensure that that is the case.

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