Cost of living crisis deepening inequalities across Britain

The cost of living crisis is deepening inequalities across the country with cities outside the South suffering higher rates of inflation and tighter squeezes on household finances

Press release published on 14 July 2022

  • Inflation is up to 30% higher in northern cities, driven by poor insulation and car dependency
  • Workers in cities in the North, Midlands and Wales face being nearly £340 a year poorer than in the South
  • Eight out of 10 cities with the highest energy costs are in the North, Midlands, and Wales

The cost of living crisis is deepening inequalities across the country with cities outside the South suffering higher rates of inflation and tighter squeezes on household finances, research from the Centre for Cities has found.

New figures show that large numbers of poorly-insulated homes and heavy reliance on cars is causing inflation to rise much faster in the North, Midlands, and Wales, where it has already reached double figures in some places.

This is having a disproportionate effect on finances across the country. Latest estimates show inflation has made workers in the North, Midlands, and Wales £131 a month poorer on average, while workers in the South have lost around £103 a month – adding up to a difference of £336 a year.

The concerning findings are published today (Thursday 14 July) in Centre for Cities’ new report, entitled Out of Pocket: The places at the sharp end of the cost of living crisis, which for the first time compares the impact the crisis is having among cities and towns across England and Wales.

The report shows Burnley is the hardest hit, with an inflation rate of 11.5 per cent in May, followed by Blackpool and Blackburn at 11 per cent, and Bradford at 10.9 per cent. In the Midlands, Leicester is among those most affected at 10.8 per cent, while in Wales, Swansea has a rate of 10.7 per cent.

Meanwhile, London and Cambridge currently face an annual inflation rate of 8.8 per cent each – meaning Burnley’s rate is around 30 per cent higher than in these southern cities.

Much of this disparity can be attributed to the fact that the North, Midlands and Wales have higher proportions of poorly-insulated housing and more reliance on cars, which leaves these areas exceptionally vulnerable to increasing fuel prices.

Research shows that eight out of the 10 urban areas with the highest energy costs were located in the North, Midlands, or Wales just before the crisis hit, with some northern cities already paying nearly £400 a year more than urban areas in the South.

In Burnley, where more than 70 per cent of homes have an energy efficiency rating below band C, annual energy bills in 2021 were £1,272 on average. This is significantly more than southern cities, such as Milton Keynes, where 50 per cent of homes have high energy efficiency and yearly bills were £889 on average. These differences will continue to grow as prices increase.

The Government recently provided £15bn to help ease the cost of living crisis but these figures show more needs to be done to support vulnerable households. In its report Centre for Cities calls on ministers to:

  • Increase benefits to bring them in line with inflation;
  • Reintroduce the £20 uplift for Universal Credit for the 5.9 million people currently on benefits;
  • Provide those living in homes below EPC band C with a one-off payment to help them face soaring energy bills.

Centre for Cities Chief Executive Andrew Carter said:

“The entire country has been impacted by the cost of living crisis but our research clearly shows some areas are being hit much harder than others. Worryingly, the North, Midlands, and Wales are struggling with higher rates of inflation that are further squeezing finances and leaving their residents hundreds of pounds worse off.

“These disparities prove that levelling up our cities to tackle spatial inequalities and futureproof the economy is more important than ever.

“In the short-term it is imperative that those most vulnerable are given the support they need to get through this crisis. Even while Westminster’s political situation is uncertain, ministers must act quickly to protect the areas most impacted and ensure they don’t fall even further behind.”

  • The report used city-level inflation estimates, developed for the first time by the Centre for Cities, and combined them with an analysis on wages growth to set out what the geography of the cost of living crisis is, what is driving it, and how the squeeze on disposable income is likely to be felt across the UK’s cities and largest towns.
  • The below table outlining the top and bottom five inflation rates across the country for May 2022 shows a clear North-South divide:
City Top 5 City Bottom 5
Burnley 11.5% Milton Keynes 9.6%
Blackpool 11.0% Reading 9.4%
Blackburn 11.0% Oxford 9.3%
Bradford 10.9% Cambridge 8.8%
Leicester 10.8% London 8.8%
  • Average domestic energy costs per year (2021), top and bottom 10:
City Ten highest annual costs (2021) City Ten lowest annual costs (2021)
Burnley £1,272 Newcastle £998
Blackpool £1,243 Sunderland £987
Bradford £1,206 Basildon £986
Southend £1,177 Slough £981
Swansea £1,148 Cambridge £960
Birkenhead £1,145 Peterborough £959
Worthing £1,140 Telford £943
Birmingham £1,131 Swindon £939
Blackburn £1,130 Crawley £919
Derby £1,121 Milton Keynes £889


  • This research uses national inflation data (rates and weights) at the component level published by the ONS. The authors have also used credit and debit card data from Beauclair to build a city-by-city inflation basket, as well as the EPC Domestic Register to measure the impact of domestic energy in the inflation basket. This research also uses a number of publicly available datasets from a number of sources, including HRMC and the ONS. This research focuses on England and Wales as data from the EPC Domestic Register is not available for Scotland and Northern Ireland.

About Centre for Cities

  • Centre for Cities is a research and policy institute, dedicated to improving the economic success of UK cities.
  • We are a charity that works with cities, business and Whitehall to develop and implement policy that supports the performance of urban economies. We do this through impartial research and knowledge exchange.

More on this issue