This article by Fraser Nelson for the Business is a brilliant elaboration of a theme this blog has noted before. It is increasingly impossible to understand trends in Britain in terms of aggregate movements.
I know regional divides are not unique to the UK. However, few countries have divides quite as stark as Britain's. Few countries have such a huge divide between the Hong Kong capitalism of the City and other such areas, that exists thanks to things like the non-domiciled rules, and the quasi-Communist North. As I mentioned in the earlier blog there is some indication that we have the greatest regional income inequality in Europe. Nelson's article establishes that there is a similar inequality in terms of numbers on benefits.
Looking at aggregate statistics in income, unemployment and statism for the UK is almost entirely a superficial exercise. There is no significant central tendency. When we compare our record on productivity, income or unemployment (to name just three economic statistics - the same is true for others like life expectancy) to that of other countries we are comparing an entirely hypothetical Britain. The reality will often be that, for example on income, the South is just about the richest region in Europe and the poorer regions are just about the poorest.
I'm not sure our notoriously centralised politics can deal with this. We are used to having national debates (although whenever someone calls for a "national debate" I die a little inside) and those tend to be based upon aggregate statistics. It will take a fundamental shift in our national consciousness to understand that for many policy questions (such as "has the minimum wage seriously depressed unemployment?") no useful answer can be given for the United Kingdom as a whole. If we can't make that shift we're going to keep missing the point on a whole spectrum of issues.